Eugene School District commits to use high-road construction contractors

By DON McINTOSH

In a 6-to-1 school board vote Dec. 15, Eugene 4J school district became the first in Oregon to commit to a community benefits agreement (CBA)—a kind of project labor agreement that sets employment standards and goals for minority and women workers. 

The new policy requires  that bidders on the project provide full family medical insurance and commit to improve access to high-wage construction jobs for women and minorities. It also looks for opportunities to support the district’s high school construction training program, like offering construction site tours to students. 

The agreement is a pilot effort, covering a $30 million project demolishing and reconstructing Camas Ridge Elementary School. Set to begin this summer, Camas Ridge is the final one of a $319 million series of construction projects funded by bond approved by Eugene voters in 2018.

The CBA is modeled on an earlier agreement adopted by Lane County sponsored by county commissioner Joe Berney. Eugene State Senator James Manning last year helped pass a bill making it clear that such CBAs are legal under state contracting rules that require governments to award contracts to the lowest responsible bidder.

“It basically tries to prevent there being unethical or lowball contractors who get work in the public sector,” said Eugene 4J school board member Gordon Lafer. 

“It doesn’t say it has to be union. But it says that contractors have to pay full family medical insurance. It means that union contractors aren’t going to get underbid because of people who don’t provide family medical insurance to their employees.”

Lafer is a professor at University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) and works closely with organized labor. He pushed the district to adopt the CBA almost since he began serving on the school baord in July 2019. 

The CBA’s mandates apply to first-tier electrical, plumbing, sprinklerfitting, glazing and roofing contractors.

Lafer worked closely with building trades leaders, including Jeff McGillivray, secretary-treasurer Lane County Building Trades Council.

“The big impact is going to be more opportunity for apprenticeships,” McGillivray said. “We’re really hoping to be able to offer some of those students direct entry right into the apprenticeship programs.”

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