August 21, 2009 Volume 110 Number 16

Oregon construction unions ready for work

LINCOLN CITY — “Jobs, jobs, jobs” was a theme of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council annual convention held Aug. 11-14 at Chinook Winds Resort.

“We’re in a depression — we’re long past a recession in our industry,” said Executive Secretary Bob Shiprack.

Unionized construction workers have enjoyed a run of full employment for more than five years now. However, as larger projects such as high-rise condominiums in Portland’s South Waterfront and biotechnology giant Genentech’s new plant in Hillsboro are completed, no new projects are breaking ground.

“With the exception of ongoing work at Intel, and a Kaiser hospital in Hillsboro, private investments have virtually ground to a halt,” Shiprack said. “Banks aren’t loaning money.”

So, throughout the convention, Shiprack and other union leaders reminded legislators and state administrators, who had been invited to speak from the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Oregon Department of Energy, and the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, that construction unions have highly-trained workers ready to go to work.

Those administrators responded in kind, telling delegates that federal and state monies are in the pipeline for work on roads, bridges, and “green” renewable and energy efficiency projects.

Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson said that in 2011 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Operations Center will relocate from Seattle to Newport, which means a new $38 million headquarters building and port for six research vessels needs to be built.

Tim McCabe, director of the Economic and Community Development Department, said Oregon is ready to explode in solar work.

“Around the solar panel industry there are thousands of potential jobs installing solar panels,” he said, noting that Oregon — the largest solar manufacturer in the United States — currently has 20,000 solar systems installed, with an opportunity for another 100 million down the road.

“For every installed megawatt, that’s 20 full-time jobs. Next year alone, that’s over 19,000 installers,” McCabe said.

Mark Long, acting director of the Oregon Department of Energy, said his agency is sitting on $1 billion in requested wind, solar, wave, volatiles, and biomass projects using the state’s Business Energy Tax Credit incentive program.

Long is realigning the Department of Energy into a business development center that offers developers “a one-stop shopping experience.” He said the agency has $200 million available for loans over the next biennium and that it will get $60 million in federal stimulus dollars from the feds and has $100 million in BETC tax credits to offer.

“We’re the only bank really loaning on the commercial side. A lot of folks aren’t aware of that,” he said. “We have decent interest rates at 6 to 7 percent, and flexible terms as far as payback period.”

Long said his agency is working with the Economic Development Department “to try to get your folks back to work.” He suggested that training centers, if they aren’t already, “get up to speed” in areas of biomass, solar and wind. “You need to be up to speed in training so you are ready to get those jobs when they come.”

During a question and answer session, Clif Davis, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48, said, “We keep hearing the need for money to train workers for solar. We’re already trained.”

IBEW officials estimate that they have 1,600 people trained in solar who are ready to go to work now.

ODOT director Matt Garrett said monies from the $960 million Jobs and Transportation Act passed by the 2009 Legislature to fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure should start being released Oct. 1. Revenues of $300 million a year will be raised through increases in vehicle registration and title fees, and a 6-cents-a-gallon gas tax that will start in 2011.

Revenues from the Jobs and Transportation Act are expected to create 4,000 to 5,000 jobs on an annual basis over the next 10 years, Garrett said.

State Sen. Rick Metsger (D-Mt. Hood), chair of the Business and Transportation Committee and an architect of the bill, warned union leaders that a group of conservatives has begun circulating a ballot initiative to overturn it.

Metsger doesn’t believe the group has enough financial support to be successful, saying, “We worked really hard to get consensus on this bill and business doesn’t want to put money to overturn something that is a job creator.”

Still, he asked union leaders to be aware of the recall effort and to be ready to take action should it make the ballot.

Garrett said that when passing the transportation package lawmakers specified 37 projects they wanted funded. Those projects are spread throughout the state.

However, the massive Columbia River Crossing (CRC) bridge project isn’t among them. Garrett doesn’t foresee construction on a bridge until 2012 — and that’s only if everything falls into place as anticipated.

“It’s a very complex, very noisy process that will take a very long time,” he said.

Garrett said agencies involved in the CRC are working to secure $750 to $800 million specific to the transit side, and $400 million on the highway side. “And we’re going to toll the bridge,” he acknowledged. “Without tolls, you don’t have a bridge. The math does not work.”

Two large private projects that the building trades council supports again got push-back from Congressman David Wu. The projects are the proposed Warm Springs tribal casino in the Columbia Gorge, and the proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at Bradwood Landing on the Columbia River near Astoria. Construction trades unions already have a project labor agreement in place for the casino work, and would likely obtain a work agreement for the LNG terminal.

“If I thought it (LNG) was an economic savior and had no safety concerns, I’d be for it,” Wu explained. “If I thought it was a really dangerous public health or public safety concern, I’d be against it. I don’t see it as either one of those. There’s legitimate positions on either side of the issue.”

Wu said he is basing his opposition on a September 2008 measure in which Clatsop County residents voted by a 68 percent margin to prohibit gas pipelines from running through county land zoned for parks, recreation and open space.

“If you can change the folks’ minds of Clatsop County, I would be happy to help build that facility,” Wu said. “This is an issue of community choice. I’m not locked in either way.”

Later, with an edge in his voice, Wu told delegates that he will oppose the Gorge casino “to my dying day, because I think it is the wrong thing for Oregon. It is the wrong thing for the crown jewel of our natural heritage.”

The six-term congressman said there are plenty of construction projects that he does support and has supported.

“We can build at OHSU (Oregon Health and Science University), we can build at Pioneer Courthouse Square, we can get the Columbia Crossing done,” he said. “I stood up for community college projects all around the state when it was not popular to pass bond measures. I will continue to do that because I think it is the right thing to do.”

“I told you, I’m happy to represent majority opinion on LNG. Please go out there and change folks’ minds. And if you can’t, then put it in your own backyard.”

In other convention business, OSBCTC named State Rep. Mike Schaufler, (D-Happy Valley), its “Legislator of the Year” and gave Sen. Metsger its “Oregon’s Chief Job Builder Award.” State Rep. Jules Kopel-Bailey, (D-Portland), received the Focused Energy Award.

Delegates passed three resolutions. One continues a $2 per member per month assessment to fund Oregonians to Maintain Community Standards to promote union construction workers and lobby for and against legislation and ballot measures that protect or harm union workers.

Another resolutions prohibits a union local or joint council from affiliating with the OSBCTC unless that local’s international union is affiliated with the National Building and Construction Trades Department.

The third resolution calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to create a sub-category for operations that rely on limestone containing naturally high levels of mercury. The resolution is aimed at protecting Ash Grove Cement Company, a union employer in Durkee, which could be forced to close because the limestone it extracts to make portland cement has mercury emission levels higher than currently allowed under the federal Clean Air Act. Ash Grove is the largest private employer in Baker County. Creating the sub-category would result in compliance under the act and, according to the resolution, “avoids sending American jobs off shore to countries with little or no concern for mercury emissions.”

Delegates re-elected John Endicott of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 as president of the council, and Bob Shiprack of IBEW Local 48, as executive secretary. Also re-elected were: Vice President Calvin McKinnis of Plasterers Local 82; Guard Clif Davis of IBEW Local 48; Conductor Bud Bartunek of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5; Trustees Kevin Jensen, Iron Workers Local 29; Len Phillips, Sheet Metal Workers Local 16; Stan Danielson, Insulators Local 36; Keith Wright, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1; Brett Hinsley, Cement Masons Local 555; Mike Thompson, Roofers Local 49; and Jeff Gritz, Laborers Local 121. Elected to the Executive Board were Pat Smith of Lane, Coos, Curry, Douglas BCTC; Mike Klem of Southern Oregon BCTC; John Mohlis of Columbia Pacific BCTC; Dale Dickson of Central Oregon BCTC; Joe Bowers of Salem BCTC; and Bob Vandecar of Pendleton BCTC.

A $750 scholarship funded by Ferguson Wellman Capital Management went to Elaine Deatley, daughter of Cement Masons Local 555 member Craig Deatley of Portland. Elaine will attend the University of Puget Sound.

A $500 scholarship went to Sam King of Cottage Grove. He is the son of Michael King, a member of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290. Sam is a freshman at Stanford University.

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