September 5, 2008 Volume 109 Number 17

Oregon Building Trades Council stays out of U.S. Senate race

BEND, Ore. — Despite pleas for endorsement from both candidates, the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council (OSBCTC) took no action in a hotly contested race for U.S. Senate.

Both Democratic State Rep. Jeff Merkley and incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith addressed nearly 100 delegates and guests at OSBCTC’s 47th annual convention held Aug. 26-28 at the Riverhouse Conference Center.

On Tuesday, Merkley said he was the best choice for working families, touting his leadership as Speaker of the House that resulted in “the most pro-worker session of the Oregon Legislature that we’ve seen in three de-cades.”

Jobs were created, Merkley said, as a result of large public investments in construction projects for community colleges, universities, K-12 schools, highways and other infrastructure. Workers were protected, he continued, with passage of legislation that clarifies prevailing wage rates on public-private construction projects; that allows workers to apply for unemployment insurance if they are locked out of their jobs in a labor dispute; and that permits public employees to form a union through majority sign-up (card-check).

“Together we got it done,” Merkley said. “But Oregon can only go so far if our nation is way off track. And we are way off track.”

Merkley said the United States and Oregon have lost millions of good paying jobs as a result of bad trade and tax policies. Oregon alone has shed 70,000 jobs since enactment of the North American and Central American free trade agreements, he said.

Merkley pointed out that Smith supports free trade and tax breaks for the wealthy — and opposes the Employee Free Choice Act.

Smith’s positions are polar opposites of Merkley’s on these issues. In fact, Smith has voted with President George Bush nearly 90 percent of the time and has teamed with Republican leaders many times on filibusters blocking pro-labor bills such as the Employee Free Choice Act.

Smith made a brief appearance before delegates on Wednesday morning. He had time for only one question following his speech before rushing off to another event. He did not talk about his positions on free trade or the Employee Free Choice Act.

“I have not voted with you 100 percent of the time,” he acknowledged. “But I have worked with you 100 percent of the time.”

He told delegates that he supports John McCain for president, prevailing wage laws, and legislation that funds projects that create construction jobs.

“Whether it’s light rail, streetcars, whether it’s wind, whether it’s energy projects, I have been there for you — that counts for something,” he said.

Smith told delegates that through his endeavors in the Senate over the past 12 years Oregon has seen 25,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars come to the state in the way of highway and construction projects.

In asking for the council’s endorsement (which he got six years ago), Smith said it wouldn’t be wise “to put all of your political party interests into one basket.”

On Thursday, a motion by the OSBCTC Executive Board to endorse Smith was amended, resulting in a no action for either candidate.

In other political business, the Building Trades Council backed re-election of U. S. Representatives Greg Walden (R-2nd Dist.), Earl Blumenauer (D-3rd Dist.), and Peter DeFazio (D-4th Dist.), and the election of Democrat Kurt Schrader, running for an open seat in the 5th District.

On statewide ballot measures, the council endorsed two of 12 measures that will appear on the November ballot. They are Measure 56, a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment that would allow May and Nov- ember property tax elections to be decided by a majority vote, rather than a super-majority; and Measure 57, another referral from the Legislature, this one to increase sentences for drug trafficking, theft against the elderly, and specific repeat property and identity theft crimes.

The OSBCTC opposes Measures 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64 and 65.

Measure 63 is its major focus. The Bill Sizemore-sponsored measure would exempt some property owners from having to get building, plumbing, electrical or mechanical permits or inspections for improvements valued at or under $35,000. The council is still working on its opposition campaign. Delegates authorized the Executive Board to decide how much money to raise to fight it.

For details on all the ballot measures, see "Oregon unions oppose slew of ballot measures" in the Aug. 15 issue of the Northwest Labor Press: www. html.

Construction jobs, renewable energy, and transportation were major themes at the convention.

OSBCTC Executive Director Bob Shiprack reported that the state’s Energy Facility Citing Council, of which he is chair, has several requests in the pipeline to cite new wind, solar, geo-thermal, and gas turbine projects. He said a subcommittee appointed by Gov. Kulongoski will be recommending to the 2009 Legislature a package of “several hundred million dollars” of bonding, loans, and utility funds for energy efficiency projects.

“It’s going to impact literally every craft. We’re talking about retrofitting buildings — everything from houses to industrial plants,” he said.

Rick Metsger, chair of the Senate Business and Transportation Committee, lobbied delegates for support in investing in Oregon’s highway transportation system.

Construction unions fully support building more roads and bridges — how to pay for it is another question. Should there be an increase in the gas tax? Or an increase in vehicle registration and other user fees?

Metsger said that doing nothing would result in gridlock — and cost the state thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

“We have to make sure our economy moves — so that our economy doesn’t move somewhere else,” he said.

Metsger is promoting a combination of both a fuel tax and registration fee increase, but he said some politicians “are running to the exits” whenever transportation funding is broach-ed. He said transportation funding should be a litmus test for construction unions as they make political endorsements. “There are a lot of people running for office who say they support transportation. You need to ask them what that means,” he said.

Oregon House Majority Leader Dave Hunt said his top priority for the 2009 Legislature will be transportation. “This will never poll well,” he said. “People don’t connect economy to roads. But you can’t have one without the other.”

Senate Majority Leader Richard Devlin said he would support a gas tax increase, but was unsure of what support he had among his Democratic caucus.

“We have to be smart about whatever we adopt. We will have to make it clear what we’re buying with that gas tax,” he said.

If somebody can make that case, Devlin said the Democratic caucus will certainly consider it.

Former Oregon AFL-CIO president Tim Nesbitt, a top aide to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, said the governor has a full agenda as he heads into his last two years in office. The governor, Nesbitt said, will be seeking input from labor in shaping and moving that agenda, which includes energy, health care, transportation, and workforce training.

Nesbitt said the advantages Oregon has, such as its relatively low cost land and natural resources, a diverse workforce, and its location on the Pacific Rim, put the state in a good position to grow. “I would summarize that as the nation goes, Oregon will go one better, or even two better if we play our cards right in shaping our future,” Nesbitt said.

In convention business, delegates elected John Endicott, business manager of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, as president of the OSBCTC, and they tapped Dave Town, assistant business manager of Painters and Allied Trades Council 5, as vice president.

Only one resolution was introduced. It calls on the council to lobby Gov. Kulongoski, the Oregon Legislature and Oregon’s congressional delegation to support the Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas terminal. The proposed LNG plant near Astoria already has a project labor agreement in place guaranteeing it will be union-built.

OSBCTC gave a $750 scholarship to Sam King, the son of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 member Michael King. Sam, a 4.0 student at Cottage Grove High School, will attend Stanford University. The scholarship is funded by Ferguson Wellman Capital Management Inc.

A $500 scholarship went to Kirsten Anthony of Redmond. She is the daughter of Daniel Walker of Operating Engineers Local 701. She will attend Central Oregon Community College this fall.

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