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TPP will Damage US Construction Industry

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OTI is very grateful that the incredibly smart, Madelyn Elder is part of our team. Most recently, she was President of Communication Workers of America Local 7901 (CWA) and kept close tabs on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Madelyn gave us a quick rundown of the potential consequences of this trade deal.

Most of the points below are because a. there are no labor protections or environmental protections written into the language; and b. the ability for “foreign” partner corporations to sue the federal or state or local governments for “unfair” trade laws or advantages.

  1. “Foreign” firms in more countries would be given equal access to government contracts.  Firms operating in any TPP signatory country would be given equal access to the vast majority of US federal procurement contracts. IE “Buy American” would be a thing of the distant past, as governments are required to accept the lowest bid.
  2. Prevailing Wage—this will be a thing of the past, as it is a peculiarly US law, and as such is subject to construction corporations in partner countries to sue the US Government. Without Prevailing Wage laws, the unionized contractors would be at a disadvantage in bidding for government building jobs, many of which require the lowest bid to be adopted.
  3. Union wages and benefits in general—with equal competition for construction corporations from other countries and the allowing of them to pay lower wages, the downward pressure on US labor contracts would be no mistake.
  4. Safety—Safety laws are different state to state in the US, although they must adhere to the minimum safety laws under the federal OSHA. Either state laws that are more strict and/or the federal OSHA laws are not protected under the TPP, therefore putting the states or Feds at risk of being sued for too stringent safety laws (just like environmental laws.) Construction is a very hazardous industry by its very nature, and required safety laws are just the minimum to prevent injury and death on the job.
  1. Portland’s $15/hr minimum wage, which would raise the wages of laborers on city contract jobs, would be at risk, as would paid medical leave at all levels of government.
  1. Project Labor Agreements:  These would be off the table. PLAs are instrumental in getting a higher percentage of women and all people of color as workers and contractors hired for government-sponsored building projects. For example, Metro’s Zoo remodel has a PLA that secures a certain % of Minority owned and Women owned Business PLAs also guarantee prevailing wage and/or union-represented construction companies to bid. Enterprises that must be used. This would definitely be challenged by “foreign” corporations.
  1.   Government-sponsored LEED (environmentally-sustainable) building, including tax incentives for private owners, etc.  would be challenged. This, and environmental retrofitting, are two growth construction areas.
  1.  Government funds for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs would be cut. These training programs are what standardize work, guarantee that workers understand and follow safety and other building codes, and assure the highest standards of how things are built (and don’t fall down.) There are now very few middle-class-wage jobs available to high school graduates since most manufacturing jobs left the US; apprenticeship programs are a foot-up for the next generation of workers.

Bottom line: All of the above US programs would be considered “unfair” advantages to trade in some way. Most of this information comes from the Communications Workers of America.

Posted on by OTI Staff in Public Policy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Metro Hosts Screening of Sista in the Brotherhood

4.19.16 Amy Panel

If you haven’t had a chance to look at positive news in Portland recently, Sista in the Brotherhood has become a big deal! Dawn Jones Redstone (Director), and and Roberta Hunt (Producer) have been invited to screen the film across Oregon and the US. The film won Best Short Film at the Portland International Film Festival.  and was an official selection for the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival. It was also shown at the Women Build Nation Conference in Chicago!

Most recently, Metro held a screening of the film as a part of their new Equity Initiative and Plan. The film was screened at the Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum, Tuesday April 19 at 12:00 pm. The film was followed by a panel discussion about government policy initiatives that could support women of color in the trades.

The panel was made up of industry professionals including:

  • Dawn Jones Redstone, Director
  • Dr. Roberta Hunt, Producer
  • Gabi Schuster, Metro Procurement Manager
  • Michael Burch, Community Relations with the Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters
  • Lauren Holmes, Project Manager for Lease Crutcher Lewis
  • and our very own Amy James Neel, Construction Manager at OTI!

The video below is Amy’s response to one question about the impact of policies:

We are encouraged by the fact that Metro is engaging in this important work. It is critical as they develop their policies moving forward, that they consider the real life impact on tradeswomen of color.

Posted on by OTI Staff in About Oregon Tradeswomen, Community Partners, Events, Public Policy, tradeswomen | Leave a comment

Making Construction Work for Women – Guest Blog by Megan Wild

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Evaluating the Growth of Women’s Roles in Construction

As the Great Recession becomes a distant memory, the housing and construction markets are poised to make a big comeback. The overall construction industry is projected to grow by just over three percent by 2019, and residential construction is expected to do even better as people get back into the business of investing in homes. Population growth will help as Millennials begin to raise their own families and seek a place to set down more permanent roots during the general economic recovery.

While this projection is great news on the surface, such growth begs an obvious question: Will the construction industry be able to keep up?

The Construction Industry Struggles to Attract New Workers

Despite the positive outlook for jobs in the construction industry, the industry needs to do more to attract and train new workers who will stay in these jobs.

With the decline of trade schools and vocational education resulting from nearly two decades of focus on standardized testing and college-readiness programs, most students lack the skills they need to work even entry-level construction jobs without employers investing in on-the-job training for them. The Department of Labor recommends much stronger outreach and recruitment programs to make these jobs more attractive to potential workers.

Women in Construction: An Untapped Resource

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women make up only about three percent of the construction industry’s workforce — a statistic that has remained relatively stable despite the fact that more women are entering the workforce than ever before.

A recent McKinsey study reports that 80 percent of Millennial women look at a potential employer’s record on promoting diversity when choosing among job offers. This makes it all the more challenging for construction companies to entice young female employees, as they aren’t very diverse workplace to begin with. It’s a potentially vicious cycle.

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Additionally, women face structural obstacles to attaining career success and promotions in the construction field. Because there are so few of them, they lack female role models and mentors in the industry, so they are often less able than their male counterparts to network and grease the social wheels to climb the ladder of leadership. Their skills may also be undervalued by predominantly male leadership as well.

Finally, many women who are interested in construction and careers in the trade industries face a set of cultural assumptions about their abilities and desires. They may be encouraged to follow more traditionally “feminine” service paths in the beauty or healthcare service industries, when in reality they want to use their hands to build things.

For example, Queens construction worker Herlema Owens explains that she knew in a flash she wanted to do construction: “It was exciting and on that first day, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Luckily for Owens, she was able to follow her dream through sheer strength of spirit, but she realized that other women might not be so luckily. To help educate women about their options in the construction industry, she founded the Association of Women Construction Workers of America, a nonprofit organization that runs classes and supports women in the trades.

Organizations like Owens’ are crucial components in attracting women into construction jobs. In addition, large construction firms will have to take the lead to attract women and change their workplace culture to make sure women feel both safe and valued on the job.

Companies such as Ring Power who sell new and used construction equipment make it clear on their website that they are willing to hire anyone who is capable to complete the job, gender is not an obstruction to a job. More companies like this are needed to promote the advancement of women in construction trades.

To this end, equal training and opportunities for advancement must be offered, and it’s important for construction firms to enact and enforce robust anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies that all employees must follow. When workplace culture evolves to value women, more women will stick with the field.

Construction companies will need to take the lead on attracting women into the field if they hope to compete during the coming boom years. After all, no company can expand — let alone survive — if it can’t attract enough workers to get the jobs done. Women are a critical, untapped resource, and smart companies will be on the cutting edge of getting women into the construction industry in large numbers.

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Megan Wild is a construction writer who specializes in residential homes. She likes writing about construction, real estate, and other industries on her blog, Your Wild Home.

Posted on by OTI Staff in Guest Blog | Leave a comment

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