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Electricians protest police station work

Members of a local electricians union filled Troutdale City Hall on Tuesday night, Jan. 10, to protest the decision to award a contract for electrical work at the new police station to an out-of-state company.

Citing their long record of volunteer service and personal connections to Troutdale and East County, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48 told the City Council they were disappointed that the contract went to Prairie Electric, a non-union company in Vancouver, Wash., over a local union company that reportedly offered to do the job for less money.

Members added they supported the $7.5 million bond to finance the new police station, which voters approved in November 2010 to replace the current station on Dora Avenue. The city broke ground on the new station, located on Southwest Kendall Avenue, in August 2011.

Fairview resident Clif Davis, business manager and financial secretary for IBEW Local 48, said it's not a union versus non-union issue. Rather, it's about supporting residents who support the community, he said, adding that Local 48 has 61 active members who reside in Troutdale.

'When the jobs come to our city, jobs that are paid for with the rents and tax dollars of our members, the jobs are sent out of state to a contractor who has zero ties to this community,' Davis told the council.

Citing high unemployment rates in the construction industry, which reached 40 percent in 2009 and most of 2010, Davis said many IBEW members have to commute to Washington County and other areas where the jobs are, 'which is why it's important to get those jobs in the (East County) area when they're there.'

Troutdale Police Chief Scott Anderson said the contract documentation requires the general contractor, P and C Construction, to notify local qualified contractors of jobs. The Police Facility Management Group reviewed the bidding process and found it kept with all the requirements in selecting a contractor for the work, he said.

Anderson added that several other contractors on the project are based in East County and the Portland area.

Davis said only one union company responded to the bid request from P and C Construction for electrical work at the police station. He received documentation from the city that the union company's bid for one project was $12,000 less than Prairie Electric's bid.

Davis said he is still trying to find out why the union company's bid was rejected.

Davis estimated that the $1 million electrical contract for the police station could have provided jobs for at least seven local electricians, and possibly up to 10 or 12 jobs.

Troutdale resident Mike Ostman, a Local 48 member and a 41-year resident of East County, said he's worked only six months in the last year, although he still pays the full amount of taxes to support the schools his children attend.

'We're here to try to work,' Ostman said. 'To give our work to out-of-state electricians, I don't feel it's fair.'

Troutdale resident Dave Jacobsen added that 'IBEW 48 prides itself on doing the job right the first time on budget, and we fix our mistakes at no cost to the voters.'

Davis said IBEW has contributed a great deal of volunteer work to the community, such as providing funds to install four scoreboards at East County high schools and paying for the electrical services, outlets and modifications for street lamps in downtown Troutdale. IBEW is also working with the city to light up the Centennial Arch in downtown Troutdale, he said.

The only voice of dissent at the meeting was from Troutdale resident Dennis Goss, who said there was no evidence the union company was locked out of the bid.

'Either you look out for our voters, or you throw all that away and you throw competitive bidding away, and you respond to whatever pressure comes into this room,' he said.

City councilors said they were sympathetic to the IBEW members' comments at the meeting. Mayor Jim Kight directed city staff to prepare an official response to the issues that were brought up.

Anderson said he also is working on a letter to the IBEW responding to its concerns.

While it may be too late to get a contract for the police station, Davis said he hopes the city will come up with a plan to protect local workers and to make sure a similar incident does not happen again.



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