Avakian, Witt woo building trades unions

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian (center) and State Rep. Brad Witt (seated), Democratic candidates for Oregon’s 1st Congressional District, during a candidates forum Aug. 25 at the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council convention. Standing to the right is OSBCTC President John Endicott and behind Witt is OSBCTC Executive Secretary John Mohlis. The building trades council took no action in the primary, which will be held Nov. 8. The victor will challenge the winner of the Republican primary in a special election to succeed David Wu, who resigned mid-term.

GLENEDEN BEACH — Construction unions celebrated the 50th convention of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council Aug. 24-26 at Salishan Spa and Golf Resort on the Oregon coast.

A highlight of the conference was a forum for candidates running in a special Democratic primary election Nov. 8 in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District.  The victor will challenge the winner of the Republican primary in an election to succeed David Wu, who resigned mid-term.

Three Democrats were invited to speak — State Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, and State Sen. Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton. Bonamici canceled at the last minute citing a scheduling conflict.

Both Avakian and Witt came courting an endorsement from the building trades council. With roughly 52,000 union members in the 1st District, labor can determine the winner if they show up to the polls. But after listening to both candidates make presentations and field questions, the council didn’t endorse either one. In an executive session at the end of the convention, a motion to endorse Witt failed to gather a two-thirds majority vote, resulting in a no action.

In their presentations to the 50 registered delegates and 38 guests, both Witt and Avakian vowed to be labor’s advocate in Congress. Both said job creation would be their top priority, in particular, securing funds to improve the nation’s infrastructure — including  construction of the Columbia River Crossing replacement bridge on Interstate 5.

In response to a question asking for  three things they have done to help the  building trades, Witt noted his co-sponsorship of House Bill 2700, a linear projects bill that was the council’s top priority in the last Legislature, his support of Bradwood Landing’s liquefied natural gas facility, and his participation on safety and health committees.

Avakian cited a bill that he wrote and got passed in the Legislature this year that will return shop classes to middle schools and high schools; his enforcement as labor commissioner of wage and hour laws, and his support of strong prevailing wage laws.

On other issues, both candidates support the “pay or play” model for state health care financing, and both agreed that the new federal health care plan passed by Congress should contain a government-run public option. Avakian took it a step further, saying the country needs a single-payer health care system.

Both candidates oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to balance the federal budget; they support ending the Bush tax cuts for the super rich; and they want a quick removal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In closing statements, Witt, a union rep for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 and a former secretary-treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO, pointed out that he is the only candidate in the race who carries a union card. “I am running on a platform that will make a positive difference in people’s everyday lives,” he said.

Avakian, a former civil rights attorney and state senator, said he has a  record of reaching across party lines to get things done. He mentioned the 2007 Oregon Renewable Energy Act that he wrote, and another bill he sponsored that allows home health care workers to form a union. “There’s nothing more important than sending someone to Washington, D.C., right now who will  hit the ground running and get the job done,” he said.

In general business, delegates elected four new Executive Board members to vacant seats. They are Russ Garnett, the newly-elected business manager of Roofers Local 49; Matt Eleazer, president of Bricklayers Local 1; Paul Riggs, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council; and Jeff Gritz, executive secretary-treasurer of the Central Oregon BCTC.

Delegates also passed five resolutions. They supported the merger of AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile. They called on all regional building trades councils, if they haven’t already, to establish a policy — be it a project labor agreement, best value contracting, etc, — that can be presented to local elected officials who inquire about building with union labor.

They called on all locals and building trades councils to  establish an electronic member alert system that will allow members rapid communications with their lawmakers on issues of importance to the trades. They called for an immediate start to the 10-lane (local preferred alternative) Columbia River Crossing, noting that the replacement bridge project “has been studied, visioned, and processed for over 10 years at a great cost.” Lastly, delegates instructed the council to send a letter to Operating Engineers Local 701 demanding that it “cease and desist from allowing members to displace International Longshore and Warehouse Union  members at the EGT facility in Longview, Wash.”

The council gave a $500 scholarship to Lindsay Guzman, the daughter of Ben Guzman of Laborers Local 320.  Karin Collins, the daughter of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 member Don Collins, received a $750 scholarship funded by Ferguson and Wellman Capital Management. Winners were selected by the governor’s office based on an application and short essay.

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