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Monday, April 16, 2007

Unions' building boom

'Nesbitt dividend' rolls in for OEA, SEIU
Political contributions will be boosted, too

When constructions companies break ground on six new teacher and school service workers union halls in the Portland area this summer, the money used to build them is coming right out of taxpayers' pockets. Voters in six districts passed construction bond measures in November 2006 totaling nearly $700 million.

At the time, they thought the money was going for schools and classrooms. Now voters are finding out that those millions will, in addition, provide a comfortable atmosphere for government union organizers to relax and recharge, as well as state-of-the-art 'war rooms' for labor's political election campaigns.

Adding union dues from quick-growing school districts will help the economy as teachers become "more productive Oregonians," said Patty Wentz, spokesperson for Our Oregon, the coalition of government unions known as the 800-lb. gorilla of Oregon politics.

"Of all the places where the public sector could spend its money, teacher unions are likely to pay the highest dividends," Wentz said. "Investments in union labor, which is what Oregon's students will become, has historically resulted in higher wages and better benefits like PERS. It's an easy call to make. A no-brainer."

According to Oregon labor's economic experts, unions, especially in the public sector, contribute to a good public infrastructure, which attracts more people to the state, further bolstering the economy.

Not all the construction is coming from bonds. David Douglas High School is using $7 million of its reserves for a new teacher union hall after voters there rejected a $45 million bond measure.

As districts spend millions, Wentz said, the money will produce many more millions as political and media consultants get in the food chain. The multiplier effect for the bonds will probably be .8, she said, meaning one new dollar of construction spending would trigger $.80 in spending on consultants.

Many corporations are involved in the new projects, making them likely suspects for huge political donations when the labor election machine springs into action, according to Wentz. These companies include two that have already disclosed giving thousands of dollars for campaigns to approve the bonds - Mahlum Architects ($2,500) and Skanska Building USA ($12,500).

The Oregonian, Apr. 16, By CASEY PARKS (not available online)

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