Cowlitz Indian Tribe signs labor pact with construction unions

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe continues to move forward with plans to construct a $510 million casino near La Center, in spite of pending lawsuits.

The tribe announced Monday that it signed a labor agreement with the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council.

The deal means the Cowlitz Tribe is committed to using union labor to build the 134,000-square-foot casino. The Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council represents 25 different trades in the greater Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area.

The casino project is expected to create about 2,000 construction jobs over the course of 18-24 months, according to the tribe.

Tribal Chairman Bill Iyall said he has always worked with union labor in his 35 years as an engineer, and the tribe decided a long time ago to collaborate with unions.

“It’s a very promising sign for the project but also for the community to know that we’re going … to ensure that the highest level of quality and safety will be maintained in the project” by using union labor, Iyall said.

Construction workers will start by building a new freeway interchange near La Center, in addition to reservation roads access and other major infrastructure, Iyall said. Eventually, the tribe hopes to add community and administrative buildings.

But before construction starts, the Cowlitz Tribe has to overcome a pending lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. The case centers on the federal government’s decision to take 152 acres of land into trust on behalf of the tribe, allowing the tribe to have its first reservation after 160 years of being landless.

Opponents — including the city of Vancouver, La Center cardrooms and the Oregon-based Confederate Tribes of the Grand Ronde — have appealed a U.S. district court’s decision siding with the tribe. The appeals schedule hasn’t been set, but Iyall believed that the appeals process would proceed quickly.

“There has been a lot of favorable responses (from financial backers) to this District Court decision. It will come sooner than everybody thinks,” Iyall said.
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