Unions worry layoffs could be coming in City permitting bureau


At Portland’s Bureau of Development Services (BDS) union-represented workers review plans, issue building permits and inspect buildings to make sure electrical, mechanical, plumbing and other work is done safely and to code. But 98% of their agency’s budget comes from fees, and with an anticipated downturn in office and hotel construction, layoffs could be coming.

BDS employs about 400 in all, including about 300 who are represented by Protec17 and the unions of the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU).

Due to COVID-19 and reduced commercial development activity, BDS anticipates reduced revenue over the next two to three years, says bureau spokesperson Ken Ray. The bureau has substantial reserve funds, but is looking at cutting costs, including personnel costs, to make those reserves last.

BDS expects to cut 12 to 15 nonunion positions in January. But Ray said BDS is holding off any decisions about layoffs for represented employees until March or April, waiting to see what happens with the vaccine, and whether construction might come back.

Union leaders in the building trades and in city unions are cautioning BDS against layoffs, because that could slow permitting when construction demand returns—and thereby delay the recovery.

“If we’re serious about economic recovery after COVID, construction has to be a big piece of it,” Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council Executive Secretary-treasurer Willy Myers told the Labor Press. “That money circulates within the community.”

Ray said BDS and staff at the office of its new commissioner, Dan Ryan, are trying to think creatively about how to deal with the budget shortfall.

“We’ve learned from the last recession that we need to have staffing to be well positioned to support the construction industry when it picks back up.”


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