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SEIU Local 49 Sues Over Park Avenue West’s Failure to Hire Union Janitorial Workers

Real estate developer Vanessa Sturgeon negotiated a deal with the city to build the Park Avenue West higher in exchange for using union contractors.

The Service Employees International Union Local 49 today amped up its fight with the developer and owner of Park Avenue West, the city's fourth tallest building.

The union has been pushing for years for real estate developer Vanessa Sturgeon of TMT Development to employ janitorial workers who are union members.

The union has filed a lawsuit June 14 in Multnomah County Circuit Court to get that to happen.

In 2014, city officials agreed to let the developer build to 30 stories as part of deal to ensure union contractors, as WW has previously reported.

Related: A Developer Promised Union Jobs in Exchange to Build Tall. The Construction Happened. The Jobs Didn't.

City zoning limits how high a building can be constructed, by limiting what's called floor-area ratio (FAR)—a technical calculation of the total floor area in the building. In this case, the city gave the developer extra height by giving the developer FAR associated with the nearby park. (The city is considering selling off other FAR in the future.)

But the city has not enforced this agreement and some city officials say the deal was poorly written, allowing loopholes for commercial clients to use non-union janitors so long as the owner and developer were not employing them.

The union is now contesting that loophole in court, suing TMT Development, the city and the commercial tenants of the building.

The suit says the original agreement is "unambiguous" and prohibited the developer, owner and commercial tenants from "contracting with contractors whose employees are not represented in collective bargaining by a labor union."

Vanessa Sturgeon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The city attorney, Tracy Reeve, declined to comment on pending litigation.

The union also held a protest outside the building today.

"We will keep fighting until Vanessa Sturgeon and the building owners keep all their promises," says Lourdes Rodas, a Portland janitor who is a member of SEIU Local 49, speaking at the rally.