Montana Governor Meets Over Union Pension Investments

March 29, 2005 ( - The administration of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and a major national labor union are discussing investments by the union's pension funds in the state's economic development projects.

The new effort is also designed to help create construction jobs with union benefits, according to a news report in the Billings (Montana) Gazette.

According to the newspaper, Evan Barrett, the governor’s chief business officer, met with Schweitzer, Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America and the Union Labor Life Insurance Co., and others.

Barrett said the primary mission of the meeting was to have the union and public pension fund leaders understand what the state can do with economic development and investment. Participants also wanted state officials to get a better understanding of the limitations and possibilities of using union pension funds.

“Frankly, by the end of the day, we see some possibilities that could make this work and might bring new investment into Montana from these pension funds and union insurance companies,” Barrett told the newspaper. “The possibilities range from public-oriented infrastructure that supports other developments such as an industrial park, a building that would house multiple companies that might provide jobs to housing, commercial and potential industrial projects.”

Barrett said the state expects to eventually broaden the effort to include other pension funds as well. “This is a foot in the door that if the processes work right opens a much larger universe,” he said.

According to O’Sullivan, his union has a $2.2 billion fund called J for Jobs. He said there are five national entities with similar programs with assets totaling $12 billion. Some money in these funds is unencumbered and could be invested in construction projects, he said.

“We fund infrastructure building projects,” O’Sullivan said, according to the news report.   “We’ve never done it in consultation with the economic development plan of a governor.”

Barrett and Randy Siemers, a Laborers official in Montana, set up the meeting. The Laborers’ Union has 1,700 to 1,800 Montana members.

“We have brought some new players to the table, and I think the prognosis is pretty good we can make something productive out of it,” Barrett said. “I would hope in a reasonable amount of time we might do a deal and a template to try out the process to see if it can work.”