Oregon Building Trades Council celebrates 75th anniversary

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown with Kevin Jensen, recently retired president of the Oregon Building Trades Council.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown with Kevin Jensen, recently retired president of the Oregon Building Trades Council.

The Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council celebrated its 75th anniversary with a gala banquet Aug. 21 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

The celebration was in conjunction with the Council’s annual convention Aug. 20-21.

OSBCTC75 logoMore than 500 guests attended the banquet. Among them were Gov. Kate Brown, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum; numerous Democratic and Republican state legislators,  city and county commissioners; and representatives from business and labor communities.

Presenting partners for the event were NECA/IBEW, Nike, and Jordan Cove Energy Project.

Keynote speaker Matt Shipley, Oregon manager of construction for Intel Corp., praised union construction workers for their ability to meet Intel’s every need at the massive Ronler Acres campus in Hillsboro.

“Intel builds some of the most complex projects on the planet, and we do it with some of the most skilled craftspeople in the world,” he said.

Gov. Brown said labor’s rich tradition of apprenticeship training has served Oregon well for over 75 years — and it will continue to serve Oregon in the future,

“Unions helped build the middle class,” she said.

John Mohlis, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building Trades Council, said construction unions’ history of passing traditions and best practices from one generation to the next — through apprenticeship training — has allowed the trades to become a leader in the region.

“Training is what sets the union trades apart from all others,” he said. “And we do it with not one penny of cost to the taxpayer.”

A 75-year history

The Oregon Building Trades Council was chartered on March 25, 1940, in Portland, Oregon.

John O’Neill of Iron Workers Local 29 was the first secretary, serving from its inception until late 1948, when he left to take a job as general organizer for his  international union.

O’Neill was succeeded by Volney Martin, a member of Painters Local 10. Martin was the Council’s first and only president up to that point. He also was the first full-time paid officer. During its first decade the elected leadership of the Council was an unpaid, part-time post. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that affiliates decided to employ a full time executive secretary. Martin remained in the post until August 1958, when he lost re-election to Joe Willis, a business agent for Eugene Laborers Local 85 and secretary-treasurer of the Eugene Building Trades Council. Under Willis’ leadership, the Council’s headquarters relocated from Portland to Eugene.

Willis left office in 1968 after losing re-election to Robert “Bob” Stanfill of Plasterers Local 82. Stanfill returned to Portland, setting up shop at the Portland Labor Center. He retired from the post in 1984.

Bill Belanger of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 held the reins for one year following Stanfill’s retirement. A severe recession had hit construction trade unions hard, and they were unable to pay for a full time executive secretary.

When Belanger returned to his trade, Bob Shiprack, a member of IBEW Local 48 and a state representative, agreed to step in without pay until the Council could recover. That blossomed into a 25-year career as head of the Building Trades Council.

Shiprack retired in October 2010. He was succeeded by John Mohlis of Bricklayers Local 1 and executive secretary of the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council.

Today, the Council represents approximately 25,000 construction workers in 30 affiliated union locals and district councils, and six regional councils. Throughout the Council’s history its affiliates have trained hundreds of thousands of construction workers through their respective apprenticeship programs. Hundreds of millions of dollars in union pension funds have been invested in construction projects throughout the state. And union locals and their memberships have volunteered countless hours in their communities repairing homeless and battered women’s shelters, upgrading homes for injured war veterans, wiring Christmas displays, building dugouts for Little Leagues, to name only a few. In 1958, construction workers tallied thousands of volunteer hours to help build OMSI.

2015 Convention Action

At the 2015 convention, delegates elected Gary Young, business manager of IBEW Local 48, as president. He succeeds Kevin Jensen, who recently retired as business manager of Iron Workers Local 29.

The 50 registered delegates passed a resolution opposing any and all ballot measures that attempt to implement right-to-work laws in Oregon. They funded their Oregonians to Maintain Community Standards political action committee through a $1 per member per month assessment. Also via resolution, delegates called on the Oregon Legislature to approve the revised Capitol Project Master Plan, and a transportation/infrastructure finance package in the February 2016 short session. Finally, delegates demanded that Portland Mayor Charlie Hales hold good on his word to support a $500 million propane terminal at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6. Hales initially championed the project, to be built under a project labor agreement with area construction unions. Several months later he withdrew his support, killing the project — as well as 800 union construction jobs and $3.3 million in annual property taxes.

The convention featured a panel of state legislators discussing the prospects of a transportation funding package. The panel featured House Majority Leader Val Hoyle (D-Eugene), Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland), state Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville), and state Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day). Not getting a transportation package was one of the biggest failures of the 2015 legislative session. Democrats and Republicans are still arguing over the reasons why. Rosenbaum said Republicans refused to vote for a transportation package because they were angry about a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (Clean Fuels) law that passed early in the session on a party line vote.

“The transportation package was held hostage,” she said, and the ransom was repeal of the Clean Fuels law.

“We agree that Oregonians have made a transportation package a priority,” Ferrioli said. “They also want carbon reduction. However, we differ on how to get to a package that delivers both.”

Ferrioli argued that the Clean Fuels law will raise prices at the pump without any tangible results. “It doesn’t build roads and it doesn’t create jobs,” he said. “We can use the money raised from taxes and fees to create a transportation system that delivers real carbon reduction.”

Opponents of the Clean Fuels bill likely will challenge the law via a ballot initiative in 2016. Ferrioli asked the Oregon Building Trades Council to help make that happen.

Hoyle said any transportation package to come out of the Legislature will have to include a discussion about the environment.

Panelists did agreed on one thing: Oregon shouldn’t wait for financial help from the federal government, and  cities, counties and other municipalities shouldn’t wait for financial help from the state.


The Oregon Building Trades Council gave $1,000 scholarships to Liam Dwyer of Cave Junction and Cariann Young of Portland.

Liam is the son of Mark Dwyer, a member of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290. He will be starting school at Columbia University and hopes to be an astronautical engineer.

Cariann is the daughter of Brian Curran, also a member of Local 290. She is working her way to a master’s degree in social work.

The scholarships are funded by Ferguson and Wellman Capital Management and Quest Investment. Recipients were selected by Elana Pirtle-Guiney, a policy adviser to Gov. Kate Brown, based on an application and short essay.

1 Comment

  1. Congrats to Bob on his recent retirement. He is a good man and does good work.
    Allan B Darr, IUOE Local 302,

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