December 22, 2014

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Lorain mayor: Relaxed union requirements saved money

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer talks with Editor Andy Young and reporter Evan Goodenow at The Chronicle-Telegram's office. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer talks with Editor Andy Young and reporter Evan Goodenow at The Chronicle-Telegram’s office. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

LORAIN — Diluting a local hiring agreement for city projects that included hiring union members hasn’t hurt union companies Mayor Chase Ritenaur said in a Thursday meeting with Andy Young, Chronicle-Telegram editor.

Nine of 11 companies that won bids on Lorain road projects this year — many from outside Lorain County – are unionized.

“They need to compete and when they compete, they can win,” Ritenauer said.

City Council members in March passed an ordinance stipulating 25 percent of workers on city projects of $2 million or more be qualified Lorain or Lorain County residents and 9 percent of residents must be minorities. The ordinance is a diluted version of a 2011 Project Labor Agreement that required 75 percent of workers be locals with 9 percent minorities and stipulated workers unionize during projects, a stipulation removed from the new ordinance.

Union leaders said the original ordinance ensured efficiency, quality and safety, while non-union companies said it was unfair to make their workers pay dues for benefits they wouldn’t receive, since most projects last a few months. Ritenauer, who took office in January 2012, shortly after approval of the original agreement, said the change increased competition and saved taxpayers money. On nearly $29.6 million worth of road projects this year, bids came in at about $25.6 million, saving nearly $4 million that can be spent on future projects.

“Unions have won the super majority of the work that we’ve done, and the taxpayers have gotten a better deal,” he said. “The more bidders, the more pencil-sharpening that goes on.”

Ritenauer also ripped Harry Williamson, president of the Lorain County AFL-CIO and Communications Workers Local 370, and Joe Thayer, former Lorain County AFL-CIO president. Both men, who backed former Mayor Tony Krasienko against Ritenauer in the 2011 Democratic primary, helped get the 2011 agreement passed. Both have been critical of Ritenauer and county Democratic Party leaders.

“The Democratic Party was founded on the principles of organized labor and the middle class,” Williamson said. “That’s not happening in the county at this present time.”

Williamson said he was pleased about the project numbers, but maintained that the agreement change cost local workers jobs. Ritenauer accused Thayer, who couldn’t be reached Thursday, of bad-faith negotiating over changing the agreement.

“Joe Thayer’s mentality is to dictate, not negotiate,” he said.

Ritenauer accused Thayer and Williamson of “scorched earth tactics” that will hurt rank-and-file members. Both Indiana and Michigan have become “right-to-work” states — the laws effectively de-fund unions by removing the automatic withdrawal of union dues from non-union workers at union workplaces – and Ritenauer said Republican Gov. John Kasich will make Ohio a “right-to-work” state if re-elected in 2014.

Ritenauer said heavily Democratic and significantly unionized Lorain County needs to be united to mount a ballot initiative to defeat the law if it passes.

“Their focus is misguided,” he said. “It could cost them.”

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