By DON McINTOSH
A new region-wide project labor agreement will raise workplace standards and give women and minorities greater opportunity on billions of dollars of upcoming public construction projects. The highly technical agreement, known as the Regional Workforce Equity Agreement, is likely to play a big role in training and diversifying the future construction workforce, and getting rid of low-road construction contractors who commit wage theft and other violations.
The agreement is the culmination of close to three years of patient negotiations led by Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council executive secretary-treasurer Willy Mazzara Myers and other building trades union representatives.
The idea is to harmonize one set of standards and goals region-wide, rather than having multiple jurisdictions with their own separate workforce and contractor equity goals and requirements for public construction projects.
The idea was conceived near the close of construction of the publicly subsidized Hyatt hotel next to the Oregon Convention Center. On that project, multiple governments contributed funds, and each funder had its own rules and targets.
“It was complicated enough that contractors found themselves becoming deficient on the project expectations day to day, depending on who was monitoring it that day, or which portion of the project they were on.” Myers says.
Under the Regional Workforce Equity Agreement, an oversight committee will ensure that contractors meet the goals and comply with requirements. If contractors fail to meet goals for employment of apprentices, women and minority workers, they can face financial penalties of up to $1,000 a day.
The agreement also contains targets for increasing the participation of minorities and women as contractors.
So far, Metro, Multnomah County, and the City of Portland have ratified the Regional Workforce Equity Agreement. And each of those jurisdictions has capital projects in development to which the agreements will apply. Metro is building a new visitors center at Blue Lake Park and replacing the glass spires at the Oregon Convention Center. Multnomah County is about to begin a slew of libary construction projects funded by a recent bond measure. And the City of Portland is getting started on a new filtration plant at the Bull Run Reservoir funded by federal dollars.
Other jurisdictions are looking to sign on as well, including Portland Public Schools and the Beaverton School District.
“I think this agreement is a good starting place for developing a relationship with the public owners that we are partnering with, and for transforming our workforce to be more reflective of the community we work in,” Myers told the Labor Press.
Requirements contractors will face on public projects
All contractors must be registered with the state as apprentice training agents, meaning they’re not shirking the job of training the next generation.
Apprentices: 20% of project hours
Minority workers: 21% of work hours in 2022, rising to 25% in 2026
Women workers: 8% of work hours in 2022, rising to 14% in 2026
All contractors must provide health insurance to employees with a full family option, and provide workers compensation (no independent contractor abuse).
Contractors are ineligible if they’ve been cited for willful violations of labor laws, prevailing wage requirements, or workplace safety laws.