Iron workers lock in union at Raimore Construction

By COLIN STAUB and DON McINTOSH

Portland minority contractor Raimore Construction has long employed members of Ironworkers Local 29 under the terms of the local master agreement. In December, iron workers working for Raimore voted to make their union representation binding under federal labor law. 

Up to now, Local 29 represented Raimore workers through what’s called an 8(f) agreement, from Section 8(f) of the National Labor Relations Act. In an 8(f) agreement, a construction employer voluntarily agrees to be bound by the terms of a union contract, and can make that commitment even before hiring any employees. The union contract they sign to become a “union-signatory” employer is usually an area agreement negotiated by a group of local union employers. Contractors may choose to sign so that they can access skilled labor through the union hiring hall, and so they can offer health, retirement and training benefits they could never afford as standalone employers.

Federal law allows this kind of pre-hire employer-led union recognition only in construction, because construction employment typically lasts just until the job is finished, making it impractical to negotiate new collective bargaining agreements each time. 

But with an 8(f) agreement, a construction employer that chose to go union can also choose to go nonunion when the master labor agreement expires. 

That’s why construction unions sometimes try to convert 8(f) union recognition to another section of the law, 9(a). That’s the section that covers most workers outside of construction. Under 9(a), workers demonstrate through signing cards or an election that there’s majority support in their unit for union representation. When they do that, that obligates an employer to negotiate in good faith with the goal of reaching a collective bargaining agreement. And they can’t withdraw union recognition when that agreement expires, only when workers vote the union out.

Last August, the Iron Workers District Council of the Pacific Northwest did just that, filing for a 9(a) election to represent a group of Raimore iron workers who were already doing work under the terms of the master labor agreement between the union and the Northwest Iron Workers Employers Association.

At the time, Raimore employed 17 iron workers, but as of the election at the end of 2022, it had 40, according to NLRB records. In ballots counted Dec. 28, workers voted 10-0 to affiliate with Local 29.

Raimore performs construction work throughout Oregon and in Clark County, Washington. During the election, Raimore was engaged in at least three major Portland-area projects requiring iron work, according to the NLRB: Powell Garage (an expansion of the Powell Blvd. TriMet garage); RiverPlace; and 11W, a mixed-use highrise at Southwest 11th and Washington.

Attorneys for Raimore tried to stop the election from happening, saying the company was planning to stop doing steel work in the near future and would no longer employ ironworkers, instead subcontracting that work on future jobs. Union representatives pointed out that the company had recently bid on projects requiring substantial steel work, and hadn’t sold any of its hundreds of thousands of dollars of steel equipment.

After a two-day hearing, NLRB regional director Ronald Hooks rejected Raimore’s arguments and ordered the election to go forward.

Raimore is also signatory with Operating Engineers Local 701, Laborers Local 737, Cement Masons Local 555, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

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