As Oregon's unemployment rate appears stuck at 12 percent, a coalition of lawmakers is working to mandate more training and workforce development opportunities for women and people of color.
Washington state's unemployment rate, announced Tuesday, is 9.1 percent, up from 4.9 percent in April of 2008, while the national rate is 8.9 percent.
Oregon's unemployment rate was 5.9 percent in April of 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In response, Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week announced a new emergency employment program with a telephone hotline designed to help workers in crisis, at least through the summer.
The Oregon Emergency Jobs Program Hotline toll free number is: 1-877-692-6111.
"President Roosevelt gave hope to millions of unemployed Americans when he created the Civilian Conservation Corps and other jobs programs. We need to take the same kind of immediate action in Oregon," Kulongoski said.
Legislative hearings began in April on three related bills to enhance employment and construction contracting for under-represented workers, within the Senate Committee on Commerce and Workforce Development.
The move is key, because President Barack Obama's stimulus plan for the states focuses on funding infrastructure, including roads and other construction projects.
Sen. Diane Rosenbaum (D- Portland) heads the committee hearing testimony on Senate Bills 894, 895 and 896.
"It is important to prepare and train more women and minorities in the trades right now so they can access new opportunities in construction related to renewable energy and energy efficiency," she said in a statement.
"Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin are engaged in collaborative efforts to adopt strategic plans to increase diversity in construction," says Rep. Chip Shields (D- North Portland).
He and colleagues have introduced similar bills in the House.
If passed, the package of bills would: create a Diversity Oversight Board to prepare a statewide strategic plan of goals and best practices to "improve diversity outcomes;" (SB 895); require the Oregon Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program by using best value contracting on certain projects to see if this method will increase diversity outcomes as it has with TriMet and PDC (SB 896); and require ODOT set aside the maximum amount (one half of one percent) it can from federal highway dollars to train and improve diversity (SB 894).
Almost $35 million in expedited American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money will be spent for transportation projects alone in Portland, Eugene and Springfield, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced May 7.
That includes some $32 million for the South Corridor I-205/Portland Mall Light Rail Project, an 8.3-mile extension of the light rail connecting Clackamas County to downtown Portland.
Lawmakers said the money is not an increase in federal funds for the projects, but rather a fast-tracked process in getting the money into state transit agencies' coffers.
"During this time of an incredibly difficult job market, we must not forget that minority families were already suffering higher levels of unemployment and fewer workplace opportunities before this economic crisis," said former Oregon State Treasurer Randall Edwards, now co-chair of the Oregon League of Minority Voters, in testimony before the legislative committee. "Part of the state and federal stimulus money must be targeted towards minority contractors and workers."
"When the state spends over $1.8 billion dollars in one year on construction, diversity needs to be part of our public investment strategy," said OLMV co-chair Sho Dozono, a Portland businessman and former Portland mayoral candidate.
"These bills give us the tools of transparency and training to help Oregon apply recovery dollars to job creation that lifts all boats," said Connie Ashbrook, executive director of the Oregon Tradeswomen Inc and co-chair of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries' new civil rights advisory board.
The bills are also supported by Construction Apprenticeship & Workforce Solutions, Coalition for a Livable Future, the Urban League, and Organizing People Activating Leaders.