About 30 union construction workers rallied outside Seattle City Hall Wednesday in support of a proposed new sports arena, saying it could create several thousand jobs.
The construction trades have been particularly hard hit by the recession, with about 30 percent of union workers out of work for two years or longer, said Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council. “Many of our members are at the end of their unemployment extensions, they’ve lost their health care, their homes are in foreclosure, their divorce rate is up. These are Depression-era unemployment numbers.”
Unions are divided over the proposal by San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen to build a $490 million sports and entertainment venue with $200 million in public funding. Longshoremen and marine cargo unions oppose the proposed Sodo location, saying it could hurt already congested freight traffic in the area and drive away port business.
The Seattle City Council and the Metropolitan King County Council are currently considering an agreement to fund the arena and return professional basketball to Seattle and attract a National Hockey League team.
Newgent said his members support making improvements to the roads in Sodo, but he said the traffic problems existed before the arena was proposed and that the new arena wouldn’t add significant impacts.
“The building trades recognizes that a working port in an urban area needs infrastructure investments,” he said.
Iron workers, plumbers and pipe fitters, cement masons, laborers and insulators all were represented at the rally. Many carried signs that said “WE NEED JOBS NOW!”
Dave Myers, executive secretary of the Washington State Building Trades, said the arena project represented a “glimmer of hope” for union construction workers. He agreed with Newgent that labor could come together around the new arena if elected officials supported transportation improvements in Sodo.
“The building trades are committed to working with all the parties looking for solutions,” Myers said.