Northwest Umatilla County is a bustling place filled with farms and food processors, fast-growing cities and industrial development.
That growth requires labor, and lots of it. Hermiston and Boardman have more jobs than residents and housing stock, which means many Oregon laborers commute from across the Columbia River in Washington. That’s not ideal but it’s lawful — except when it comes to contractors and building specialists such as plumbers and electricians.
That’s because Oregon and Washington do not have license reciprocity for a number of trades, plumbing and electrical being the most notable. That means a company fully licensed in Walla Walla or Tri-Cities would be unable to do the same work across the river or the road in Oregon. In places like Hermiston and Milton-Freewater, that means that big construction and development projects are often beset by a lack of qualified bids and delayed construction.
For example, retailer Ranch & Home has partly blamed their behind-schedule project on the difficulty of lining up contractors and subcontractors. And a stoplight project that would have helped traffic flow and safety in Hermiston could not be finished this construction season because no one bid on the project.
Area legislators and economic development professionals thought this could be a problem the Legislature would love to take on — a legislative fix that would promote growth and development in places that have been outpaced by the strident economic growth of Western Oregon. Reciprocity could not just benefit Umatilla County, but all along the Eastern Oregon line with Idaho, and the southern Oregon line with California and Nevada, if legislators so choose.
But it didn’t happen quickly, and it seems unlikely to happen at all.
Remember that the Portland metro area is, overall, a labor supplier to Washington, meaning that reciprocity there wouldn’t have the same impact as in Eastern Oregon. It would, however, open Oregon labor unions to more competition, and we know how something that would negatively affect unions is handled in the Oregon legislature.
The chances of legislation is almost nil when it would greatly benefit much of non-metro Oregon but ever-so-slightly have a negative effect on Portland. That’s a shame.