Cowlitz Tribe will build La Center casino with union labor

VANCOUVER, Wash. — The Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council has signed a project labor agreement with the Columbia-Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council to build a $510 million casino resort at the La Center Interstate 5 interchange 15 miles north of Portland.

“We’re delighted to be working with the building trades unions. We know that by using union labor the job will be done right. It’s the confidence I have in the union trades,” said Tribal Chairman John Barnett, a former member of the Woodworkers Union.

“We are a landless tribe and we have fought hard for everything we have today,” Barnett said. “As union people you know how that is.”

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe, which gained federal recognition as a tribe in 2000, wants to build a casino, hotel, restaurant, convention and entertainment venue that would employ more than 3,000 workers.

Construction alone is expected to create more than 4,000 jobs, with an annual payroll of $185 million.

“Job creation is one of the most important issues in this area right now, and the lack of health insurance for people working full-time is a tragedy,” said John Mohlis, newly-elected executive secretary-treasurer of the Building Trades Council.

The project labor agreement would require whatever general contractor the tribe hires to build the resort to use union contractors and subcontractors that provide family health care coverage.

“Pledging to use union labor to build their facility is a show of good faith by the Cowlitz Tribe that they will treat their workers with dignity and pay fair wages and benefits,” Mohlis said.

But before any work can begin, the casino must get final approval from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and clear a federal environmental review process. Interior Secretary Gale Norton is considering the tribe’s application for a land-in-trust agreement that would allow the Cowlitz — a landless tribe with offices in Longview, Wash. — to open the casino. Tribal gambling operations also are subject to state approval. If everything goes according to plan, construction could begin in June 2007.

Earlier this year, the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council signed a project labor agreement with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Anderson Construction on a proposed $135 million casino at Cascade Locks, located 40 miles east of Portland in the Columbia Gorge.

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