Op-Ed

Support for fuel terminals is support for state’s workers

Rick Hicks, president of Teamsters Joint Council 28
Rick Hicks, president of Teamsters Joint Council 28

The governor, the executives of King and Pierce County, the Seattle City Council, some members of the Tacoma City Council and others – including some of our union brothers and sisters – should seriously rethink their opposition to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Bellingham and the Millennium Bulk Terminal and Vancouver Energy export terminals in Vancouver.

There’s a broader issue involved that’s much more significant than whether we ought to ship coal, oil, methanol or other fossil fuel commodities to trading partners overseas. While these export terminals provide construction and operational jobs, they are also important private investments in Washington’s trade infrastructure.

As we are all aware, this state’s economy relies very heavily on trade. These terminals are an investment in our economic future. The recent visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials made it clear that more trade is coming and that Washington state wants to be the gateway for that trade.

Trade has allowed Washington to recover more quickly than most states from the Great Recession, and it helps hedge against future economic hardship.

The policymakers above have started down a dangerous path by trying to cherry-pick commodities based on carbon content. Our geography and natural deep-water ports bolster our position as a trade hub – but business, investment and jobs will go north or south if we have policies that actively discourage infrastructure investment based solely on the commodity villain of the day.

By the way, Canada receives two to three trains a day of U.S. coal due to lack of export infrastructure. The proposed bulk export projects mean real jobs now for U.S. workers and will go a long way to help boost the middle class in our region.

Our industrial-sector jobs are under attack and need to be revitalized. Remove the infrastructure and you remove the jobs.

Consider: Developing these export facilities would create more than 9,000 jobs during construction and more than 2,100 permanent, full-time, family wage jobs with an annual payroll of more than $115 million.

It is estimated that the Gateway Pacific project alone will be responsible for 4,400 full-time jobs during two years of construction and 1,250 ongoing positions after construction is complete. Some crafts in the building trades have sustained 30 to 40 percent unemployment for more than three years, so this is no small thing.

What’s more, nearly $1.5 billion in private investment has been proposed to get shipping at these terminals up and running. That has dual benefits: additional family wage jobs, coupled with critical upgrades to aging road, bridge, rail, and other transit infrastructure to handle the expanded shipping capacity now and into the future.

Finally, the additional tax revenue for our communities provides significant benefit – an estimated $25 billion annually – to our schools, community and social support programs.

It is important to remember that economic recovery from the recession has been uneven across our state. Rural areas have experienced significantly less growth, which makes action to promote strong working-class jobs, livable wages and tax revenue to our communities an ongoing priority.

If these incentives are not enough, perhaps the consequences of inaction or delay will resonate. The longer we wait, the longer this process is stymied by obstruction and delay, the more likely investors are to go elsewhere. Both California and Canada have made significant strides at their ports to capitalize on the expanding Asian market. We stand at risk of losing our competitive edge if the political games continue.

Our leaders should take the long view and recognize the payoffs the investments associated with these terminals will have both today and well into the future. It is time to set aside political ideology, listen closely to the growing support for these projects from a broad range of supporters, and take the action necessary to invest in our workers.

Rick Hicks is president of Teamsters Joint Council 28, the parent body of 12 Teamster Locals representing approximately 56,000 union members in the Pacific Northwest. Lee Newgent is executive secretary of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, a voluntary coalition of more than 60 construction-related labor organizations.

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