For an Equitable Economy

Overcoming Challenges


While the successes of the CBA are impressive, there remain some lingering challenges to the full realization of its potential. For example, one area where the CBA has not yet met its targets is with female journey-level workers. The CBA set a target of 9% of total project hours for journey-level tradeswomen. However, as of January, 2015, the realized rates on Kelly Butte and Interstate were 6% and 3% respectively. While disappointing, the failure to meet those targets should not be taken as a failure of the CBA. The relatively low level of journey-level hours is an unfortunate reflection of the relatively modest number of journey-level tradeswomen in the construction trades and continued challenges to the acceptance and corresponding utilization of women on the job-site.

If anything, these numbers demonstrate the continued need for the CBA. As shown by the high levels of female apprenticeship hours under the CBA, it has the potential to significantly correct the historical disparity for women in the construction trades by developing a pool of skilled female journey-level workers and promoting the broader acceptance of women in the construction trades. Those conclusions are reinforced by the statistic for women journey-level workers on the Swan Island Trade Center, a project with no CBA in place. On that project, zero percent (0%) of hours worked went to journey-level tradeswomen. Importantly, it was the CBA’s transparency and compliance process that brought this issue to light, and the Oversight Committee is committed to correcting it by continued tracking and developing additional retention strategies.

Another area that remains a challenge is in the continued twin misperceptions among certain constituents that the CBA is biased in favor of unions resulting in added barriers to women and people of color. First, the CBA is not biased in favor of the unions. Union and non-union contractors are treated equally in the selection process. Additionally, the benefits of the CBA are available to all contractors, regardless of union or open-shop status. For example, the use of union hiring halls for the referral of much of the workforce benefits non-union contractors by providing a highly skilled and dependable labor supply. When appropriate there are significant exceptions to the hiring-hall process for core employees, DBE contractors, and specialty contractors. In some instances, the CBA has provided greater benefits to non-union contractors than to union shops. For example, the majority of firms benefitting from the technical assistance funding – 15 out of 22 firms – are open-shop contractors.

As for the view that union participation creates barriers for women and people of color, that is simply a lingering misperception. The numbers show that union involvement in the CBA has expanded the opportunities for women and minorities in the construction trades, not hindered them. For example, Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., recently analyzed the apprenticeship utilization rates of the contractors on the CBA and found that union apprentice programs generally had between 2-17% women apprentices, with only 3 of the 19 programs on the CBA having no women apprentices. These 19 union programs alone accounted for more than 68% of female apprentices statewide, and their recruitment accounted for a 1.2% increase in statewide female apprentices over the year prior to enactment of the CBA. As for minority participation, the CBA union contractors all had minority participants, with between 7% and 41% utilization rates depending on trade. This accounted for 56% of all minority apprentices state-wide, and is a 1.6% increase in minority apprentice rates since before enactment of the CBA. Similarly, a review of the type of work assigned to minority apprentice and journey-level workers on projects governed by the CBA shows that it is widely distributed among all the trades, not simply concentrated in relatively low-paying jobs. While there may be historical reasons for the continuing misperception that union involvement equates with barriers to entry for women and people of color, the unions involved in the CBA are committed to diversifying their ranks and the construction industry and they have backed up that expressed commitment with significant resources.

Portland’s Community Benefits Agreement: A Proven Tool for Advancing the City’s Commitment to Workforce Equity