February 2, 2007 Volume 108 Number 3

PDC wants more time to amend new construction wage policy

Plans to amend a two-week-old Portland Development Commission construction wage policy were pushed back by the PDC Board at its Jan. 24 meeting.

On Jan. 10, the PDC Board adopted a policy to pay construction workers state prevailing wage rates on private projects that receive more than $1 million in funding form the quasi-public agency, which serves as the development arm of the City of Portland.

In addition to wage rates, the new policy also calls for specific hiring goals for women and minorities on a project-by-project basis.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, Commissioner Charles Wilhoite expressed concern that the policy didn’t include language that gave PDC the ability to levy economic sanctions on developers who failed to meet stated hiring goals. After discussing the issue, the Board directed PDC staff to amend the policy to include enforcement actions and to bring it back for a vote on Jan. 24.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, the revised wage policy included language for economic sanctions, but didn’t set specific dollar figures. Wilhoite said any fines should be pooled and earmarked for “diversity organizations.”

During public testimony, attorney Jim Francesconi, speaking on behalf of the Carpenters, Operating Engineers and Laborers, said the unions support the wage policy in general, but he pointed to a couple of “loopholes” in the policy that “will certainly cause controversy down the road.”

One provision states that: “when the total floor area of publicly-owned space is less than 50 percent of the total floor area of the combined public-private space, the policy shall not apply to the construction of the privately-owned space unless this portion of the project receives $1 million or more in PDC resources.”

The other provision says: “if projects constructed privately include public and private ownership portions that can be separated for construction purposes, the public portion of the project shall be subject to the policy and the private portion shall be exempt from the policy.”

Francesconi said that bringing ownership back into the equation is what caused so many problems in the first place. “Ownership injects a whole lot of confusion,” he said. “I think you’re setting yourself up for a whole lot of controversy.”

Francesconi, a former city commissioner and mayoral candidate, said the Operating Engineers also would like to see demolition included in the $1 million threshold. As it stands, the wage policy states that demolition and environmental remediation will be consistent with rules under the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Other suggestions the Board heard for amending the construction wage policy included adding incentives as well as sanctions to hiring goals; mandating apprenticeship training on projects; requiring nonunion contractors and training programs to submit annual affirmative action reports (the policy instructs only affiliates of the Building Trades Council to file reports); and exempting certain trades from working on projects if they don’t meet affirmative action goals.

PDC Chairman Mark Rosenbaum asked, and the Board agreed, to delay a vote on amending the policy until its next meeting on Feb. 14. “I think that after the discussion today, we need to bring it back,” he said.

NOTE: John Mohlis, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council attended his first meeting as a commissioner of the PDC on Jan. 24. He was appointed to the Board by Portland Mayor Tom Potter and confirmed by a unanimous vote of City Council on Jan. 17.

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