Skookumchuck Wind Project Labor

Scores of members of the Laborers' International Union of North America sit in on a hearing on the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project to push for local hiring. Civil deputy prosecutor Eric Eisenberg, left, and senior project planner Karen Witherspoon represented the county at the hearing.

RES-Americas, the backer of the Skookumchuck Wind Project being constructed in Lewis County this summer, says it’s committed to using local construction workers whenever possible — following a strong showing from organized labor this week pushing the company to hire local workers.

“We have been actively seeking subcontractors for all scopes,” said Joel Leineke, the company’s executive vice president of construction. “As a company, we have the ability to perform every single trade required on the project ... but our goal is to maximize the use of regional subcontractors.”

Leineke’s comments came following a hearing Tuesday in which roughly 100 members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America packed the room in an effort to put public pressure on RES-Americas to hire local laborers. Several union leaders said the company had not been very responsive to their requests to discuss local hiring.

Leineke said he was unsure who the union leaders had been in contact with, but said the company has been in dialogue with local subcontractors for years as it’s readied the project. The project is expected to entail close to 300 jobs during the construction phase.

“The tree-clearing work that’s being done right now is being done by a local subcontractor from the area. We have a couple different contractors we’re speaking to about the civil works,” he said. “We are working with a number of subcontractors, we’re outreaching to additional subcontractors and our hope is to subcontract as much of the project as possible.”

On Friday, Leineke said he spoke with Bob Guenther, president of the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Counties Labor Council, who has been among the vocal leaders in pushing the company to hire local workers. 

“I had a very good conversation with him,” Guenther said. “It was straight, frank and up-front. We’ve got an opportunity to make some progress for them as well as us.”

RES-Americas, Leineke said, originally intended to handle all of the work on the project with laborers from Washington, Oregon and northern Idaho. With a compressed construction timeline, thanks to some permitting delays, the company may have to bring in its own workers for some aspects of the project, but it still plans to hire locally whenever possible, he said. 

Guenther said RES-Americas has offered divide the various projects on the site into smaller bids, giving local contractors a better chance to get a piece of the action.

“In the construction world, there’s scopes of work for each segment of the job, and he’s willing to break down the scopes of work so that smaller contractors have the ability to participate in that plan,” he said. “I’m working on getting names of local contractors to send over for them to consider sending a bid request.”

The company could not commit to hire union laborers, but Leineke noted that many contractors on the West Coast are union-affiliated. 

Right now, RES-Americas has begun tree clearing on the site as it waits for a few permits to clear procedural hurdles so it can begin construction. Next, it will build access roads and install foundations for the 38 turbines on the site. Work on the substation and transmission line will begin soon as well. Parts for the turbines won’t arrive until late summer, but the company believes the wind farm is still on track to begin generating power by the end of the year. 

“Our objective is to come in and be a good neighbor and absolutely hire as many local craft workers and folks as we can,” Leineke said. “We know that these wind farms have a meaningful impact on the community, and to the degree that we can maximize that possible impact, we want to.”

(2) comments

ExDir

One step that would greatly promote local hiring would be a Wind Turbine Technician program at Centralia College. Turbine technician is projected to be one of the most in-demand jobs in the future and wind farm operators snatch up every graduate with a certificate, with good pay and benefits.

Cinebarbarian

If I were going to attend a public meeting for presenting what a good employee I would be, I'd sure as heck get cleaned up a bit so the possible employer does not mistake me for some wino before showing up.

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