County’s new health headquarters is union-made


ROOFTOP TOUR Building trades officers Willy Myers (left) and Bob Carroll praised Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and her policy adviser Liz Smith Currie for the work they did to craft a project labor agreement.

By Don McIntosh

Twenty-seven months after breaking ground, Multnomah County’s new nine-story Health Department headquarters is open to the public. Located at 619 NW Sixth Avenue, it occupies half a city block between Union Station and the soon-to-be-redeveloped 14-acre U.S. Postal Service site. It was built by union hands, and will now be a union workplace, with three clinics, a pharmacy, a lab, and office space for health department employees who administer public health programs, emergency response, and mental health and addiction services. Workers at the Multnomah County Health Department are represented by AFSCME Local 88.

At a March 20 grand opening, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury was plainly proud of the $94.1 million project. Multnomah County’s core values are diversity, sustainability, and fiscal stewardship, Kafoury said, and the new Gladys McCoy building satisfies all three.

Before construction began, building trades unions worked with general contractor JE Dunn, the county, and minority contractor organizations to hammer out a project labor agreement (PLA). Signed by 18 unions, the PLA ensured that most of the work would be done union, and set numeric goals for women and minorities to have opportunities on the project. Unions and other stakeholders met monthly to troubleshoot any challenges contractors had meeting the goals. In the end, women accounted for 9.2 percent of the work hours, and minority males accounted for 19.7 percent. And 28 percent of the project dollars went to companies owned by women and minorities.

The project was also a chance for a new generation to gain experience. The PLA set a goal that 20 percent of the work hours would be performed by apprentices, and the project exceeded that goal by 11 percentage points.

IBEW Local 48 rep Bob Carroll, president of the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council, said that’s so important because his generation is heading into retirement. Today’s apprentices are the ones that will replace them, and it takes time to get trained up; skilled construction trades aren’t jobs you can hire off the street for.

All told, 935 construction workers worked on the site, 250 at the peak, all of them earning the prevailing wage and benefits. Over 90 percent of the work was done by union members, who were employed by 43 union-signatory contractors and subcontractors. [Nonunion minority contractors were allowed to use some of their own core employees before getting union workers dispatched.]

The project broke ground Dec. 14, 2016, and topped out Dec. 6, 2017. Roughly 500 staff will have moved in by the end of April.

Likely none of those health department workers will miss their cramped old office at Southwest Stark and Fourth Avenue, a dilapidated former department store. The new space isn’t opulent, but ZGF Architects took care to make it a beautiful as well as functional space. Abundant natural light may cut down on seasonal affective disorder; gender-neutral bathrooms with individual stalls will end the bathroom wars, and a rooftop terrace will give workers panoramic views of Forest Park, the Fremont Bridge and downtown while on break. Ground floor meeting space will also be available for community groups to use. Energy and water saving features in the building — including an eco-roof with native plants — could result in LEED Gold certification.

At the opening, Kafoury credited former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith with ensuring that the headquarters would continue to be named after former county chair Gladys McCoy, the first African-American elected to public office in Oregon. And she thanked former commissioner Judy Shiprack for pushing for the project labor agreement.

JE Dunn vice president Tom Heger said he’d never seen as much cooperation among unions, contractors, and community in his 21 years in the industry. The project also benefited from city-county cooperation: The City of Portland donated the land, which was owned by Housing Bureau, and Prosper Portland contributed $36.4 million in TIF financing.


This two-minute time lapse video shows how the nine-story building went up seemingly overnight.


  • Bedrock Concrete Cutting
  • Big C Industries
  • Boyter Brothers
  • Brundage-Bone
  • Carr Construction
  • Charter Mechanical Contractors
  • Complete Fusion Welding
  • Concrete Restoration Technologies
  • Culver Glass Company
  • DAS Simplified
  • EC Electric
  • Faison Construction
  • Finish Line Concrete Cutting
  • Floor Factors Inc
  • Garner Construction
  • General Sheet Metal Works
  • Global Electric
  • J & S Masonry
  • JE Dunn Construction Company
  • Key Electrical Construction Inc
  • LaRusso Concrete
  • Loy Clark Pipeline
  • McDonald Excavating
  • Norkote
  • Northwest Fire
  • Omega Morgan
  • Oregon Electric Group
  • O’Neill Electric
  • Pacific Foundation
  • Point Monitor
  • Portland Coatings, Inc., DBA Williamsen & Bleid
  • RF Stearns Inc
  • Snyder Roofing of Oregon
  • Speciality Firestop Systems
  • ThyssenKrupp Elevator Corporation
  • Toran Construction
  • Turtle Mt Construction
  • Vaughn Environmental
  • Veterans Electric
  • Western Partitions
  • Western Rebar
  • Western States Fire Protection Company
  • Zana Construction Company
Multnomah County chair Deborah Kafoury thanked former commissioners Judy Shiprack and Loretta Smith for their roles in the project, and the two reached out for a congratulatory handshake. Photo by Motoya Nakamura/ Multnomah County


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