September 7, 2007 Volume 108 Number 17

Building trades unions savor legislative victories

NEWPORT — Construction union officials celebrated a successful legislative session Aug. 21-24 at the annual convention of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Passage of a new prevailing wage law on public-private partnership projects was their major victory. Improved budgets for capital construction projects was another gain. The Council also helped block several bills that would have weakened safety standards and apprenticeship training requirements.

The Council announced its legislative all-stars for the session, topped by Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley. Schaufler, a former member of the Laborers Union, was praised for his work introducing, carrying and guiding several key pieces of legislation through the political process as chair of he House Business and Labor Committee.

Joining Schaufler on the all-star team were Democrats Arnie Roblan, Betty Komp and Jeff Barker and Republicans Karen Minnis, Wayne Krieger and Greg Smith.

Senate all-stars included Floyd Prozanski, Vicki Walker, Brad Avakian, Richard Devlin, Kate Brown, Rick Metsger, Frank Morse and Ben Westlund. All are Democrats.

“But there is no time to rest on our laurels,” said Executive Secretary Bob Shiprack. Noting a “sea change” occurring in the Oregon Legislature, with several representatives and senators either leaving to run for other posts — or just leaving — and the move to annual sessions, Shiprack said the Council is already gearing up for 2008 and beyond.

The 54 convention delegates passed a resolution to continue assessing $2 per member per month to fund Oregonians to Maintain Community Standards. Money raised by this political action committee is used to promote legislation and ballot measures that benefit union crafts as well as defend against ballot measures and legislation that try to weaken them.

Transportation funding will be a top legislative issue, as will reforming the enterprise zone program.

Enterprise zones offer exemptions from property taxes for businesses that agree to invest in specific areas and commit to create and maintain a certain number of jobs. The Building Trades Council wants language that would require businesses to hire Oregon construction contractors to build the projects. Last session, SB 151 extended the sunset date for the enterprise zone program to June 30, 2013, but it doesn’t include language about local hiring.

“The construction phase isn’t even included in the calculation,” said Pat Smith, executive secretary of the Lane, Coos, Curry, Douglas Counties Building Trades Council. “Build it cheap. Build it any way you want; but once it’s open they’re required to pay a living wage, whatever that is. The construction industry should be included in the equation.”

Guest speaker Sen. Rick Metsger asked construction unions for their help in putting together a transportation funding package that would keep Oregon moving forward.

“It’s a critical time,” Metsger said. “If we fail to keep improving our transportation system, it will have a ripple effect in all corners of our state. Transportation fuels businesses and our economy. Investment in transportation is an investment in the health of our state.”

Chris Warner of the governor’s office told delegates that Gov. Ted Kulongoski is committed to working with stakeholders to develop a plan that meets the transportation needs of the state.

“Oregon is rapidly approaching gridlock,” he said. “A transportation package will be part of the 2009 session.”

Warner also told delegates the governor would work with labor “to find that balance” on local hire language for enterprise zones.

Mike Wood, director of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA), told delegates construction deaths are on track to reach double figures for the first time since 1997. Eight construction workers have died this year already. That’s up from an average of five to six annually.

Wood said the increase in fatalities “doesn’t mean the sky is falling,” or that more regulations are needed. “The truth is, rules aren’t followed,” he said.

The most recent death Aug. 16 was caused when a trench collapsed on a worker laying sewer pipe.

Not speaking specifically to this tragedy, Wood said that when shoring fails, “I can flat out tell you ... it sure as hell isn’t a freak accident. It’s something we know happens — and we damn well know how to prevent it.”

Wood emphasized that greater compliance of safety rules by contractors and workers would go a long way in saving lives and preventing injuries. “What kills people on construction sites, we know how to prevent,” he said.

Other speakers included Vicki Walker, who is running for secretary of state; and Ben Westlund, who likely will leave the Senate to run for state treasurer. Walker was actively campaigning, while Westlund said he would make an official announcement in mid-September.

“I’m made of pure grit,” Walker said, noting that if elected secretary of state she would focus more attention on the Audits Division. “I love getting the bad guys. Audits are right up my alley,” she said.

In general business, Clif Davis, the newly-elected business manager of Electrical Workers Local 48. was elected to the Executive Board of the Oregon State Building Trades Council.

The Council gave a $500 scholarship to Aurora VanGarde of Gresham. Aurora, the daughter of Richard VanGarde of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, will attend Oregon State University.

A $750 scholarship funded by Ferguson Wellman Capital Management was presented to Brain Ratliff, the son of IBEW Local 48 member Chris Ratliff of Hood River. Brian is a sophomore at Oregon State.

Winners are selected by the governor based on an application and short essay.