February 19, 2010 Volume 111 Number 4

Oregon construction workers demand jobs legislation

SALEM — A boisterous crowd of nearly 400 workers — many of them long-term unemployed in the construction industry — rallied for jobs legislation Feb. 10 on the front steps of the State Capitol.

They came from every corner of Oregon to deliver a forceful message to lawmakers that they and their unions will no longer support politicians who don’t support them. A sea of signs in the crowd read: “Vote Your Job,” “I Want to Work,” and “Don’t Vote for Job Killing Politicians.”

This is a major election year, with the governor’s chair, all congressional seats, a U.S. Senate seat, and State House and Senate seats up for grabs.

The rally was organized by the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council and Oregon AFL-CIO.

According to the Oregon Employment Department, 12,900 construction trades jobs vanished last year. Since 2007, the number of construction jobs lost stands at 27,300. The official unemployment rate in Oregon is 11 percent, with some counties topping 20 percent.

“Wall Street may think the recession is over,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain, “but here in Oregon it’s not. Legislators need to make sure that the job creation legislation before them this session makes it to the governor’s desk. For the hundreds of thousands of unemployed Oregonians there is no other option.”

A half-dozen bills have been introduced in the February special session of the Legislature that would spur job creation. However, several of them are bottled up in committee — primarily on the Senate side.

“They’re calling this a ‘jobs session,’ but they seem to want to kill every jobs bill out there. They’re trying to placate us with a few extra weeks of unemployment insurance,” said Bob Shiprack, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council. “It was the same story last session. Some of these folks in the Capitol don’t get it.”

Democrats control the Senate 18-12 and the House 36-24.

State Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, who is not seeking re-election this year, told the crowd that “it’s time to take away the rhetoric and get down to the brass tacks and find out what your legislator is going to do.”

The bills construction workers are lobbying include Senate Bills 1050, 1045 1020, and 909; and House Bills 3604, 3651, 3681, and 3655.

“If we don’t put you folks back to work, we’re going to cut our budgets again,” said State Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley. “Anything but a ‘yes’ (on SB 1020) and the other bills creating jobs and working in America is a ‘no’ to you, a ‘no’ to unions, a ‘no’ to your family, and a ‘no’ to the future of this state.”

Apparently SB 1020 is already dead. The bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, but did not receive a hearing before a set deadline.

Shiprack said SB 1020 would have helped build and improve the state’s energy infrastructure by easing the permit process on “lateral” construction projects such as roads, bridges, rail lines, pipelines, and transmission lines.

“This bill actually makes it easier for landowners,” Shiprack said. “Under current law, (state, county etc.) has to first condemn a property before a developer can start negotiating with a landowner. SB 1020 would allow a developer to start talks with a landowner prior to condemnation.”

Environmental groups opposed the bill, as did the Yamhill County Democratic Central Committee, which passed a resolution Jan. 21 asking lawmakers to kill it.

Other jobs bills being tracked: SB 1050 is a Buy America law that would require use of American-made construction materials on public works projects. HB 3651 would require paying prevailing wage rates on construction and installation of solar energy systems on public-owned land. HB 3604 requires public agencies to buy locally when purchasing goods for public projects.

The special session is scheduled to conclude by February 26.

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