July 31, 2015

Willy Myers

Commissioner Willy Myers joined the PDC Board in July 2015. He’s the Executive Secretary of the Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 25 trade and craft groups, including electricians, plumbers, and teamsters. He’s also been an active volunteer with Global Volunteers, a nonprofit that delivers essential services to communities worldwide.

Why did you say yes to Mayor Charlie Hales’ request to serve on the PDC Board?

It was an honor to say yes, to serve the city of Portland.

[Past PDC Commissioner] John Mohlis preceded me at the Columbia Building Trades [ed note: Mohlis heads the Oregon State Building Trades Council] as well as at PDC, and the relationships he built and experiences he got were invaluable. I saw a definite advantage, not only for myself but for my organization, having the perspective of someone coming from the building trades to give input in how we build the city.

I have had a pretty open relationship with the mayor, even back when he was running for office. The trades supported Eileen Brady; I met him for coffee and explained to him that the majority of my affiliates supported her. But we talked about leaving the door open.

I actually got involved with PDC in the early 2000s. We were really starting to get into what the South Waterfront would look like and how it was going to be built, and I was very engaged in that process.

What are you most looking forward to as a commissioner?

One of the challenges the building trades face is getting a diverse workforce interested in getting into the trades. I will have more opportunity to help guide that outreach and really help the trades more accurately reflect the communities they’re working with.

Another would obviously be shaping our city. With some of the buildings that are coming up, we need them to meet the soul of our city, we have to make sure what is being proposed is something that fits in our city.

Being able to recapture that property down by Union Station [Broadway Corridor] and have it be something functional is huge.

I’m coming into it fairly green. There’s a lot more to it than I thought. There’s definitely going to be a learning curve for me. With Centennial Mills, for example, I didn’t realize there was as much public attachment to the buildings or the horse barn. Those are other perspectives I really didn’t have in mind that are causing me to step back and really look at my own opinions. It’s very much an eye-opener.

What would you like PDC staff to know about you (personally or professionally)?

Professionally: I’ve been in the construction industry for 28 years, almost 15 in leadership positions. I started off as an organizer and became a business agent where I represented the sheet metal workers in contract negotiations. I was president of the building trades council for almost four years, then stepped into the executive secretary position. I’m the head of the local council (Columbia Pacific) – which covers from La Center to just north of the Marion County line, all the way to the coast all the way to The Dalles.

I like working with my hands, but I know I can do more good for the rest of my membership in the position I have now. I’ve learned my negotiation skills through my leadership role; being able to read an audience is more important than being able to deliver your message. If your message is falling on deaf ears you really have to know how to adjust. I learned that early on, was able to change course midstream if I needed to and still get the message across. That’s probably why I got so much support from the other trades.

In the first year and a half that I was in my position we were pushing close to $3 billion in project labor agreement jobs that we had negotiated successfully. Right now we’re working on a [billion dollar] agreement for the methanol manufacturing project in Clatskanie [a $2 billion project backed in part by the Chinese government, which would export methanol to China for making plastics and rubber.]

Personally: I’m getting married September 24 (to Elizabeth Mazzaro – love of my life). We’ve known each other for eight years as close friends and colleagues. It’s great to come home and tell someone about my day and have them get it. She engages, she gives me constructive feedback. Ellen Rosenblum will perform the wedding, we’re getting married at Edgefield and then we’ll go for a couple of weeks to Tulum.

My honeymoon will be my first vacation in the last seven or eight years – where it’s an actual vacation and not a volunteer mission. I’ve gone on vacations but they’ve been volunteer missions with Global Volunteers. It’s a recharge; you’re seeing a country in a different way than you ever would as a tourist. I’ve been to India, Crete, and Cook Islands twice.

The first time I went to the Cook Islands I met Hillary Clinton, it was amazing. She was at the Saturday market – we’d met at different political things before and she looked over at me and said, “You’re a sheet metal worker, right? What are you doing in the Cook Islands?” I said, “Madame Secretary, what are you doing in the Cook Islands?” All the volunteers ended up having dinner with her.

The second time in the Cook Islands we went to a very poor school. I walked in the very first day and was given a lesson plan and was the teacher, by myself, for two weeks. I had never taught before, and they owned me in the first three hours. But we ended up having a great two weeks.

I’m a student of architecture and history. I’m starting to get into [U.S.] Revolutionary history. I like to work out and go on long walks, trying to get back into shape. We just recently moved to St. Johns (from just outside Carver). My fiancée was in love with St. Johns, so we found a house, right on the St. Johns parade staging route. The parade day was hot, so I brought out an ice chest full of water, and Mayor Hales was out there in my front yard and he said he wanted to talk to me. We scheduled our meeting at the Lovejoy Bakery. And here I am.