A Contractor on the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field Renovation Walked Off the Job for Safety Reasons. He Lost His Contract.

Construction work in Oregon continues even though many workers find social distancing and sanitation lacking.

A subcontractor working on the renovation of the University of Oregon's Hayward Field tells WW his company was told to remove its equipment from the site after he sent his team home and voiced safety concerns.

The subcontractor warned that it wasn't possible to complete his work on the project—one of the largest construction jobs underway in the state—while maintaining the social distancing recommended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"You're sharing tools and equipment with people you don't know," the subcontractor says. "There are heavy pieces of materials we had to lift in place, and you've got guys in boom lifts and scissors lifts together—and on top of that, sanitation around the porta-potties is basically nil."

The subcontractor began working on the project about a month ago. But as the novel coronavirus began spreading through the country, he became concerned whether his crew could work safely in a large group environment.

Oregon's Construction Industry Is Chugging Along Like It's Still 2019. Some Workers Say That's Dangerous.

"At the end of the third week of March, the state of Washington shut down all nonessential construction, and I said, 'Hey, I don't think it's safe for me and my guys here,'" the subcontractor says.

At the end of March, the subcontractor notified the company that hired his firm in writing that he was pulling his team of workers off the Hayward Field job. (WW is not using the names of the companies involved because the subcontractor who got fired fears economic consequences, but he shared emails corroborating his story with this newspaper.)

"I told [the company that hired my company] via email, 'We're going to stay off the job until further notice,'" the subcontractor says.

An email exchange followed. The head of the company that hired the subcontractor said he understood the safety concerns and sympathized, but noted that under Gov. Kate Brown's executive order of March 23, construction work was allowed to continue and that Hoffman Construction, the general contractor on the Hayward Field job, was determined to keep going.

He told the subcontractor to remove his company's equipment from the site.

Now, the subcontractor sits at home. His team is idle. "We want to work," he says, "but there's really no way to do it safely or efficiently."

He adds that if construction workers strictly maintain a 6-foot distance from their co-workers, they simply can't accomplish many necessary tasks and those they can do are often cumbersome or unsafe.

"We tried to explain when you are working alone, you are spinning your wheels," he says. "It's just not cost-effective."

Both the University of Oregon and Hoffman Construction assured WW that they put worker safety first.

"All contractors currently working on projects at the UO have been directed to follow all federal, state and local requirements and guidelines with regards to COVID-19. That includes guidelines on social distancing, additional hand-washing stations, and disinfecting of surfaces and objects," said UO spokeswoman Kay Jarvis in a statement. "The university continues to monitor the situation closely, and any decision to suspend work on projects will be made in consultation with contractors and state and local health authorities."

The subcontractor did not deal directly with Hoffman but rather with one of Hoffman's many subcontractors on the project.

He says he's disappointed in Hoffman for not shutting down.

Hoffman vice president Dan Drinkward says the company emphasizes worker safety.

"We have not and will not penalize a worker or subcontractor for stopping work due to a safety concern," Drinkward says in an email. "In fact, we actively encourage them to bring concerns forward so that we can plan our work and create a safe and healthy job site."

The Hayward Field renovation was a priority job because the University of Oregon was set to host events for the university's powerhouse track and field program and then the 2020 U.S. Olympic trials in June. But those events have been postponed until 2021.

All the more reason, the subcontractor says, to put safety ahead of on-time completion.

"I don't see how it would cause a problem to shut down for a few weeks," he says.

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.