December 5, 2008 Volume 109 Number 23

State hospital job off to a bad start

SALEM —The long overdue replacement of the dilapidated Oregon State Hospital has gotten off on the wrong foot for some construction unions.

Laborers Local 320 held an informational rally Nov. 20 to protest the presence of nonunion contractors performing demolition and asbestos abatement work on the first phase of the $250 million prevailing wage project.

The general contractor is Hoffman Construction.

According to the Laborers Union, IRS Environmental, which has a primarily Hispanic workforce doing asbestos removal, does not provide adequate health insurance and isn’t a recognized training agent for apprentices. In fact, during the rally Nov. 20, Laborers organizer Bill Hoffman asked an IRS Environmental employee about his health care plan. The man responded that he didn’t have insurance.

Demolition work is being performed by nonunion Konell Construction and Demolition of Sandy, Oregon.

Jim Anderson of Operating Engineers Local 701 told the NW Labor Press that several signatory contractors bid the work.

Not all of the construction contracts have been awarded, “but when the first big piece ($16 million for demolition and asbestos abatement) goes rat, that’s bad news,” said Ben Nelson, an organizer for the Laborers Union.

Anderson hopes that a union contractor will get the excavation and site work.

The 125-year-old psychiatric hospital is one of the oldest on the West Coast. Originally known as the Oregon Insane Asylum, it was renamed in 1907. The hospital may be best known for being featured in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” starring Jack Nicholson.

In 2003, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski established a 21-member mental health task force to identify problems in the mental health care system and recommend solutions. That inquiry found many buildings on the campus located at Center Street NE in central Salem were badly outdated.

In September, ground was broken on a new, 620-bed facility, part of a $458 million “revitalization and modernization” plan that will include a second, 36-bed state hospital in Junction City — near the location of a new state prison. The new hospital is scheduled for completion in 2011.

Speaking at the Laborers rally were Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO; Jerry Fletcher, president of the International Brotherhood of Tangent Electrical Workers Local 280; and Bruce Roller of Laborers Local 320. More than five dozen members from other unions participated, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, . AFSCME Locals 3295 and 3327 represent nurses and doctors at Oregon State Hospital.

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