Canadian developer asked to ‘Hire Oregon First’

Nearly 150 construction workers and their allies marched through the streets of downtown Portland April 1 demanding that a Canadian developer “Hire Oregon First.”

The rally started at the site of the Benson Tower, a new $30 million, 26-story condominium under construction at 1500 SW 11th Ave. at Clay Street in Portland. The location was once home of the historic Simon Benson house before it was moved to the Portland State University campus. From there, protesters marched to 101 Main Place, where Octagon Development sub-leases an office on the 14th floor.

Canadian developer Eric van Doorninck and Octagon Development are using Canadian general contractor ITC, USA on the project. Non-union Canadian firms have received contracts to do foundation work and window fabrication, and an out-of-state glazing sub-contractor is expected to install the glass window walls.

Excavation and iron work was awarded to area union contractors.

Representatives of the Organizers Roundtable of the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council have met with the general contractor, only to be “stiff-armed” when trying to get more information about the sub-contractor bid list.

“It was going South on us, so we decided to take it public early,” said Bill Hoffman, an organizer for the Laborers Union. “We don’t want them coming in here with cheap labor from Canada to do the work.”

Following the rally and march, Andy Krebs, vice president of construction for the Benson Towers, told the NW Labor Press that the sub-contractors hired at this stage were brought in from British Columbia “for their expertise.”

“We’ll be hiring all local (workers),” he said.

Krebs said a specialized Canadian shoring system designed in Vancouver, B.C., and a “rain screen window wall system” that will be installed at the Benson Tower are unique to Portland and the United States.

“Only four companies do it (the window wall), and they’re all Canadian,” he said.

Krebs told the Labor Press that they tried to use a U.S. contractor — “but the budget wouldn’t work for us.”

Besides, he asserted, the window-wall system in the U.S. is inferior when it comes to keeping moisture outside. “Oregon and Washington have (numerous) failing face seals that contractors are having to go back and repair,” he said, although he couldn’t point to one building in Portland or Seattle that had a problem.

Jerry Fischer of Glaziers Local 740, disputed the claim. “I’m not aware of any major problems, he said, noting that the Canadian system is simply a “cheaper way” of installing a window wall.