July 24, 2014

Elyria
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Union sues Lorain school district

LORAIN — When ground was broken in October for the new Lorain High School, union leaders were on hand for the celebration, but their celebrating may have been premature.

Lorain Schools has rescinded a project labor agreement designed to increase union members and local residents building the high school, according to a July 11 lawsuit against the school district. The suit, filed on behalf of the Sandusky-based North Central Ohio Building and Construction Council, also names the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission and the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

State taxpayers are covering 81 percent of the cost of the $73 million school. However, the suit said the commissions threatened to cut state funding unless the Board of Education reneged “despite its prior legally binding agreement.”

Superintendent Tom Tucker, who took over in August, said Tuesday that the agreement was made before Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011. Kasich, who unsuccessfully tried in 2011 to get a law passed that would’ve stripped public union workers of most of their collective bargaining rights, abolished the agreements shortly after taking office.

“We have to do what they tell us,” Tucker said of state officials.

The change is not expected to delay the project, said Jeff Hawks, district executive director of operations. Construction bids are expected to be awarded in early 2014 with construction beginning in the spring. The school is scheduled to open in August 2016.

The lawsuit comes after City Council members in March diluted an agreement for city projects, saying it was increasing costs and unfair to nonunion companies. The city agreement guarantees 25 percent of workers on city projects of $2 million or more are Lorain or Lorain County residents. The previous agreement said 75 percent of workers on projects of $100,000 or more must be city or county residents.

Joe Thayer, Lorain County AFL-CIO president, fought against the changes in the city agreement and said he was disappointed in the high school agreement being dropped. Thayer, who attended the ground breaking, said Kasich’s anti-union initiatives have hurt union and non-union working people statewide.

Thayer said the union agreements were used for the building of Admiral King Elementary School and Southview Middle School and both projects were completed on time and under budget.

“It was a win-win for everybody,” Thayer said. “Those are two excellent pilot projects as to why this works.”

Despite his disappointment, Thayer said Lorain Schools and local unions have had a good relationship, which he expects will continue.

“We all need a common goal here and that’s to make sure our children get a very good education and move forward out of the school system and into jobs, preferably within the county,” he said.

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