July 29, 2014

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Lorain considering watered-down hiring policy for city projects

LORAIN — A local hiring agreement to employ more Lorain and Lorain County residents for city projects is expected to be repealed and replaced with a watered-down version.

City Council members Brian Gates, D-1st Ward, and Richard Lucente, D-6th Ward, blocked a vote at Monday’s Council meeting blasting Mayor Chase Ritenauer for proposing the replacement about 30 minutes before the meeting.

“It was presented and timed in such a way as to make it unlikely to provide us time to find a detailed objection,” Gates said.

But Ritenauer has enough votes for passage at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Council members Dennis Flores, D-2nd Ward, Tim Howard, D-3rd Ward, Bret Schuster, D-4th Ward, Eddie Edwards, D-5th Ward, Myroslaw “Mickey” Silecky, D-7th Ward, and Frank DeTillio, D-8th Ward, as well as at-large members Dan Given and Anne Molnar supported a vote. At-large Councilman Tony Richardson was absent.

The Project Labor Agreement involves projects of $100,000 or more and gives Council members the right to opt out of some projects.

It mandates 75 percent of those employed on public projects be qualified Lorain or Lorain County residents, and that 9 percent be minorities.

The agreement was approved in 2011 to increase employment in Lorain, which traditionally has had an unemployment rate higher than the national average.

The new ordinance would only involve projects of $2 million or more and mandates 25 percent local hires, 9 percent of whom must be minorities. Critics of the agreement said it discouraged local, nonunion companies from bidding on projects because of a stipulation that workers pay union dues after seven days of working on the project.

Companies must pay the prevailing local wage on projects. However, nonunion companies traditionally provide fewer benefits than union companies allowing them to bid lower on projects.

Supporters said the stipulation helped level the playing field with unions already in a weak position.

Union membership nationally fell to 11.3 percent last year — just 6.6 percent in the private sector — the lowest since 1916, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Critics said it distorted the intent of the agreement, which was created to increase employment of union and nonunion workers.

Some 35 workers from Terminal Ready Mix, a Lorain concrete and construction company, attended the meeting.

They told Council members that they lost work when the company had to bid out work when it was awarded to a unionized subcontractor.

John Falbo Jr., whose father owns Terminal, said his workers would have been forced to pay for benefits they would never receive since most projects only last a few months.

“That’s just taking money out of their pocket,” he said after the meeting. “It’s forced unionism.”

Ritenauer said local hiring and minority requirements weren’t being met, and local, nonunion companies were refusing to bid, meaning taxpayers would likely pay more for projects as Lorain prepares to do $17.7 million in locally funded street improvements this year.

“The goal of the PLA was to promote local employers and local employment,” he said. “It’s not doing that and that’s why we need to change it.”

Joe Thayer, Lorain County AFL-CIO president, countered that the unions were willing to compromise and the Council can opt out of the agreement on any project.

“The mayor’s problem is Council has the authority and not him,” Thayer said after the meeting. “He just can’t arbitrarily dictate what he wants to do, which is what he’s trying to do now.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.