South Waterfront gets ‘project apprenticeship agreement’

Nearly two years in the making, the Portland Development Commission (PDC), Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), developers and the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council have finally signed a new “project apprenticeship agreement” (PAA) on a section of the South Waterfront Central District Project.

PDC is coordinating the $1.9 billion project, a 31-acre parcel of vacant industrial land on the Willamette River waterfront south of downtown that is being developed with public and private money into a neighborhood with a mix of jobs, housing, retail and recreation.

PDC estimates 1,000 construction jobs will be created in the first phase of the project.

“The goal of the PAA is to have local building trades unions support PDC’s worthwhile social goal of using the SoWa project as a catalyst to help jump- start careers in the trades for women and minority members of our local community,” said Jim O’Connor, general counsel for Operating Engineers Local 701, who helped negotiate the deal. “We have agreed to help achieve the ambitious job targets set out in the PAA,” he said.

“It’s just a beginning ... but it’s a historic beginning,” added PDC’s general counsel Matt Baines.

The goal is to have 35 percent women and minorities — 20 percent ethnic minority and 15 percent women — employed on a project-by-project basis in South Waterfront by the year 2014. Initially, the ratio is set at 4 percent women and 12 percent minorities, with incremental increases each year.

The workforce diversity strategy is intended to apply to all construction work performed by general contractors under contracts in excess of $200,000 and by subcontractors under contracts in excess of $100,000. Contractors will be required to have apprenticeship training programs in order to bid on the work.

“Unions are good at apprenticeship training — all of our crafts are better than anyone else when it comes to training workers, that’s a proven fact,” O’Connor told the Northwest Labor Press.

Speaking before the PDC Board Oct. 26, O’Connor said, “the challenge we now share with the PAA is to turn the words negotiated in the lawyers’ offices into a reality on the ground, in the mud of the SoWa project. As we note in the trades, when the owner wants a certain type of gravel, or size of pipe, or quality of steel, they specify it and insist that their people on the ground comply. We have to do this on apprenticeship too — training will be required down to the superintendent level. Otherwise, the noble goals just won’t be achieved.”

The building trades council actually had an agreement — known as the Third Amendment — with PDC in June 2004 following more than a year of negotiations. At that time, union officials were under the impression they had an all-union project labor agreement for the entire South Waterfront project. The problem is, PDC reportedly hadn’t communicated to the developers or OHSU that the unions would be signatory to the development agreement. They all balked.

Negotiations resumed, but during that time the PDC underwent sweeping changes in its leadership and on its board. The plan was buried for nearly six months.

“We’ve lost two years of valuable time, but I have confidence in our partners — they’ve been very amenable to this point,” said PDC’s contract compliance manager Tyrone Henry. “This is where the rubber meets the road ... where we roll up our sleeves and execute this strategy.”

Dina Alexander, a partner at the law firm Ball Janik LLC, which represents the project developers, said her clients are “certainly committed” to the goals spelled out in the PAA. “This is a great and positive moment,” she said.

The partners include OHSU, North Macadam Investors (NMI), a limited liability corporation of investors that includes (Homer) Williams & Dames Development Co., River Campus Investors, which is jointly owned by NMI and OHSU, and Block 39, LLC.

PDC’s new executive director Bruce Warner said workforce diversity goals “are a priority for me. My expectation is we are and will continue to be a leader in this.”

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