Designed to increase employment for Lorain and Lorain County residents on city construction projects, the Project Labor Agreement stipulates 75 percent of qualified Lorain or Lorain County residents be hired for projects of $100,000 or more and requires that workers unionize while on the project. Nine percent of local hires must be minorities.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the agreement, approved in November 2011, has unrealistic hiring goals for work that is sometimes highly specialized and has discouraged local nonunion companies from bidding on projects.
“The dollar amount threshold has to change, and there has to be an exemption for local contractors and local companies,” he said.
With a slew of construction projects beginning in the spring, including $17.7 million paid with local taxpayer money, Ritenauer is under pressure from local nonunion companies. The owner of Terminal Ready Mix, a nonunion Lorain construction and concrete company, brought about 35 workers supporting repeal and clad in orange T-shirts to Monday’s and Wednesday’s meetings.
The new ordinance, which Ritenauer has enough votes to pass, would require 25 percent of those hired for projects of $2 million or more be local residents, 9 percent of whom must be minorities. The union requirement would be eliminated.
City Councilman Tony Richardson, D-at large, blocked a repeal vote at Wednesday’s special City Council meeting. Rules requiring a third reading of ordinances are routinely waived and Richardson said he supports repeal. Nonetheless, Richardson said there needs to be more discussion about hiring goals and cost thresholds for the substitute ordinance.
Richardson said the $2 million threshold is too high and would affect just three of 27 upcoming projects.
Richardson said more discussion is needed on adopting a community benefits agreement in the future related to construction projects.
“The PLA needs to be repealed, but we need to have everybody at the table to discuss how we’re going to move forward,” he said.
That discussion probably won’t occur tonight. Council members, who heard from about a dozen residents during an acrimonious 90-minute debate Monday, are expected to vote tonight without hearing public comments.
Ritenauer said the window for seeking bids for construction projects in the spring is closing, and he couldn’t wait for a vote at the March 18 Council meeting.
No comments were heard Wednesday. The usually sparsely filled Council chambers were packed with nearly 200 people.
Among them were several police officers to discourage fights between union and nonunion workers at the meeting.
“Don’t touch me, dude,” a union worker told a Terminal worker when the worker walked by him during the meeting. “Watch your mouth,” the Terminal worker replied.
While Terminal owners say the union requirement has cost their workers employment, Joe Thayer, Lorain County AFL-CIO president, said Terminal has received about $1.48 million in city work since Ritenauer took office in January 2012.
Thayer said he met twice with Ritenauer before the repeal was proposed. Ritenauer said compromises were rebuffed by Thayer.
However, Thayer, whose union backed former Mayor Tony Krasienko in the 2011 Democratic primary over Ritenauer, said Ritenauer blindsided and betrayed the unions.
Thayer said the union requirement ensures projects run efficiently, frugally and safely.
He said city officials should’ve withheld payment from contractors not meeting hiring goals or opted out of projects where the goals weren’t feasible.
Thayer said Ritenauer was being disingenuous to say he wants to increase local hiring while decreasing hiring goals.
“If we go to $2 million, you’re going to reduce the amount of local participation that you’re trying to achieve,” Thayer said. “It’s counterproductive.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or email@example.com.