Mehrens to retire as building trades leader

Wally Mehrens, longtime executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbia-Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council, announced that he will retire after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

MS is caused by damage to myelin — a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibers of the central nervous system. When myelin is damaged, it interferes with messages between the brain and other parts of the body. For some people, MS is characterized by periods of relapse and remission while for others it has a progressive pattern.

Mehrens, 55, is still undergoing tests to determine how severe the disease is and what he will need to do to combat it.

A member of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, Mehrens has served as the full-time executive secretary since 1988. His current term expires in December, but he had already decided not to seek re-election and to retire — before he was diagnosed with MS.

At a special-call meeting of affiliated business managers Oct. 25, John Mohlis, the building trades council’s president, was asked to help fill in as the “assistant to the executive secretary” until the December election.

Mohlis, who is in mid-term as business manager of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, accepted the assignment, but asked delegates to assist him in attending meetings and other business requirements the job entails.

Mohlis said he will accept the nomination as executive secretary-treasurer in December.

Mehrens is a well-known figure in Portland area construction, business and political circles. He serves on numerous boards and commissions, including the executive board of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO; the executive boards of the Oregon State and Washington State building trades councils; and the Executive Committee of Worksystems, Inc. He is president of LINK Community Development Corp., a non-profit group created to provide union-built affordable housing; he is on the task force of the Columbia River Crossings, which is considering a new bridge over the Columbia River linking Vancouver, Wash., to Portland as well as expansion of Interstate 5 at Delta Park; he sits on the Labor Advisory Board of the Labor Education and Research Center of the University of Oregon; he served on a mayor-appointed blue-ribbon committee of the Portland Development Commission to look at new economic development strategies for the city; he’s involved with the Metropolitan Alliance For Common Good; Metro’s Expansion Area Planning Fund Committee; the Portland Development Commission’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Committee and many other posts.

Mehrens also serves on committees that created the BULL Session Golf Tournament and Washington CLUB Golf Tournament, both of which have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Northwest charities.

“I’ll step down from anything that people want me to step down from,” Mehrens told the Northwest Labor Press. “These aren’t ‘Wally’ positions, these are labor posts, and it’s important that we retain people from organized labor on these boards, councils and commissions.”

Mehrens said that he will do as much executive secretary work and attend as many outside meetings as he possibly can until the end of his term. Because the MS has affected his vision, he will rely on his wife Judi to drive him to where he needs to be.

“I’ll pick and choose,” he said. “But it definitely will be a lot easier to say ‘no.’ ”

He and Judi are active in Democratic Party politics at the local and national levels. Judi was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and Wally is a precinct committeeperson in Clackamas County and is a former chair of the Multnomah County Democrats Central Committee.

Mehrens joined Steamfitters Local 235 in 1968. He served that local as a vice president and as a business agent prior to its merger with Plumbers Local 51 in 1985 that created today’s United Association of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290.

Mehrens served as the first president of Local 290 and was a business agent and organizer for the union before winning election as executive secretary-treasurer of the building trades council in 1988.

The building trades council represents more than 12,000 construction workers at nearly 2,000 signatory contractors in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. The 13 unions that make up the council have members that perform over 25 million hours of work annually with an economic value of more than $75 million.

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