BEND—John Mohlis presided over his last convention as executive secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council (OSBCTC), held Aug. 11-12 in Bend. Mohlis, 60, retired Sept. 1. Succeeding him is Tim Frew, a member of IBEW Local 280 in Tangent, Oregon.
During his 30-plus-year career, Mohlis built a reputation as a hard-working, respected union leader who always brought a balanced perspective and unifying voice to contentious issues. He forged relationships with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, contractors, business owners, bureaucrats, other union leaders, and rank-and-file members.
That was evident at a retiree party Aug. 23 which drew nearly 250 well-wishers from across the political spectrum.
“Bipartisanship in the Legislature is so important,” Mohlis told the Labor Press. “In all four caucuses the door is open to us. We have friends in all of them. And we have to maintain that. You have to. We can’t rely on one party. We just can’t. And we can’t rely on one chamber. We have to have friends in all of them if we’re going to succeed.”
At the OSBCTC convention in Bend, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said Mohlis has been the gold standard for the Congressional delegation.
“When John says something, you can just count on it,” he said.
Mohlis is the only union official to ever receive the “Compass Award,” presented annually by the Port of Portland. The award recognizes individuals who serve as civic and/or corporate role models in the community, and who demonstrate exceptional support for the Port of Portland.
Last year, Mohlis was named Outstanding Volunteer Fund-raiser by the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Oregon & SW Washington for his work on “Unite for the Knight,” a campaign between business and labor organizations that helped raise $500 million for the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Challenge.
Mohlis served three terms on the mayor-appointed Portland Development Commission. John Kitzhaber named him “team leader” of his Economic Development transition team after he was elected governor in 2014. Mohlis also has served on the Management-Labor Advisory Committee on workers’ compensation, the Oregon State Apprenticeship Council, and the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council, to name a few.
Mohlis was raised in Waterloo, Iowa. He spent a year and a-half at the University of Iowa, unsure of what he wanted to do. He met his wife, Debbie, at college. In 1977 they moved to Bozeman, Montana, where he entered the bricklayer apprenticeship program. He soon became an active member of the 35-member Bricklayers Local 5. He phone-banked for area politicians and attended building trades council meetings. As a third-year apprentice he was elected a trustee of the local. Later, he served as financial secretary when the incumbent officer stepped down.
When construction slowed down in Montana, Mohlis traveled to Salem in February 1988 to work on the Marion County Correctional Facility. After three months, he returned home for his wife and young daughter, moving the family to Redland, Oregon, later that year.
He transferred his book to Bricklayers Local 1, and met then-business manager Jim McNannay. In May 1989, McNannay hired Mohlis as a business agent and organizer. When McNannay retired in 1994, Mohlis ran for the seat. He served four terms before taking the job as executive secretary of the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council in 2005. He succeeded Wally Mehrens of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, who retired.
In October 2010, Mohlis succeeded Bob Shiprack, who retired as executive secretary of the Oregon State Building Trades Council.
On reflection, Mohlis says he probably is most proud of the purchase in 2000 of the Mason Trades Building in Northeast Portland. The space includes offices and a training center. “It really helped us ramp up our training program,” he said.
At the 2016 OSBCTC convention, Mohlis said it hasn’t been a one man job. He recognized all the volunteer union leaders who run building trades councils throughout the state.
“It’s so important to have these local building trades councils on the ground, watching the projects in their area, watching the local politics,” he said. “I can look anybody in the eye and say: we have building trades councils in every corner of this state that are minding the business and doing the right thing for our members and contractors.”
Mohlis continued: “I am so grateful and so lucky to have had the opportunity to go to work for you and your families, and the men and women of the building trades. It’s an honor and a privilege.”
In retirement, Mohlis will do some traveling, and spend time with his son, daughter, and two grandchildren (a third is on the way). He will continue as a trustee on the Western States 401(k) plan, on the Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. board of directors, and on the board of the BULL Session golf tournament. He also is considering doing some work as a consultant.