Opinion Columns & Blogs

Why labor is backing expansion of Washington trade terminals


Washington state is at an economic crossroads. With more than 94,000 new jobs created over the last year and unemployment holding around 6 percent, it is imperative we keep this positive momentum going.

As a proud leader of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council, I was pleased our statewide representatives passed a resolution supporting the Gateway Pacific Terminal expansion project (GPT) at our state convention. Recent economic studies have concluded the GPT project will generate 4,400 full-time-equivalent jobs during two years of construction and 1,250 ongoing positions after construction is complete. These jobs are essential to our communities and members; the economic downturn hit us particularly hard resulting in unemployment rates of 30 percent to 40 percent for three-plus years.

No other projects on the horizon hold such promise long-term for thousands of Washington families as the proposed terminal expansions in Bellingham and Longview. By securing the future of these projects, we will bring back industrial manufacturing jobs to the state, critical to the ongoing economic recovery of our region. Trade and its necessary infrastructure account for one in four jobs in Washington. Union members working on these projects ensure continuation of the foundational bedrock of much of the state’s economic success.

The Northwest needs new infrastructure investments that will come with the trade terminal expansions. Let’s not forget: Over a billion dollars in private investments have been proposed to expand shipping at existing Northwest ports. GPT’s project, as well as expansion of the Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, are crucial opportunities to cement the state’s role as a leader in international trade. While the expansions are made possible by investments from coal, other bulk commodity industries such as agriculture, Washington’s second largest export, will benefit.

Clearly, the discussion must be broader than any single commodity. We cannot overlook millions of new tax dollars flowing annually into our public schools and social programs resulting from the terminal expansions. Our members understand what is at stake; families are leaving small towns and communities in Washington due to a lack of good paying jobs. There is no reason for this in a state with our tremendous natural resources.

Both Canada and California have increased port capacity recently allowing for more commodities such as U.S. coal to be exported to Asia. Washington’s competitiveness relies on decisions made in the near-term by our elected leaders. Increased infrastructure will provide future opportunities for generations to come.

The Building Trades Council and its proud members from across the state applaud the Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades Council for their April resolution also supporting GPT. Together, we are ready to build, expand and protect our communities with stronger trade infrastructure, giving Washington the competitive edge it needs and deserves.

Lee Newgent is executive secretary of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council, representing more than 70,000 members in Washington. The council, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, is a voluntary coalition of 60-plus construction-related labor organizations.