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Yes, Really: Anti-Union Associated Builders & Contractors Pursue Bills to Ban Local Hiring in OH

Work at Progressive Field was done under a CBA

Work at Progressive Field was done under a CBA

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In Ohio, two bills are currently being considered by the General Assembly, House Bill 180 and Senate Bill 152, that would prohibit cities from using geographic hiring preferences on construction projects.  Such preferences are often written into Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) to ensure that the local workforce is given preference over out-of-state workers.  Effectively, the bills would limit incredibly important local hiring.

CBAs are often under fire from the anti-union right and groups such as the Associated Builders and Contractors.  While the state lacks any local hiring mandates, a small handful of Ohio cities including Cleveland have begun to push for such preferences in recent years.  

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson opposes both HB 180 and SB 152 on those grounds. He argues that the bills would prohibit the city’s “ability to combat unemployment and poverty by requiring contractors to [sic] use local residents in construction projects.”  In a statement, Jackson said:

“Prohibiting geographic-based hiring will hamper Ohio’s economic recovery and contribute to segregation of cities by race and income.  Our young people have increasing difficulty getting a start in Ohio’s workforce. These workers and the overall economy of Ohio will benefit from the local jobs created through the use of geographical-based hiring preferences on construction projects: jobs with apprenticeships, clear career paths, and quality on-the-job training.”

In a recent op-ed for, David Wondolowski, Executive Secretary and Business Manager for the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council, explained how CBAs benefit the state:

In my role as the representative for all of the construction unions in Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties, I must point out that these types of requirements help to promote economic growth in a community from the inside.

For example, when a developer chooses to invest in Cleveland, he makes an investment not only in a project but in the city itself by agreeing to employ a percentage of local construction workers to help build and thereby benefit from the project. Further community investment by the developer can come in the form of a commitment to hire local people to work in the building after it is built.

Wondolowski also argues that community benefits agreements help prevent misclassification, which in turn helps the state and the taxpayer:

Absent these agreements or at least without some form of a promise by the developer, we’ve witnessed projects being built right here in our own city by out-of-state workers. In many cases, these workers are misclassified as independent contractors. This practice is consistently used to help employers and employees avoid paying income taxes, workers’ compensation and prevailing wages.

When this occurs, the municipality loses twice: Not only does it not benefit from the jobs on the project, but it also receives no taxes from the people who did.

Wondolowski also argues that CBAs, which often mandate local hiring, do not harm contractors given how skilled and trained the regional workforce is:

Our 14,000 members are adequately trained and are always prepared to work. For anyone who is not currently a member of ours, we have several options for pre-apprenticeship programs, and there is no cost to the student associated with these programs. And recently, the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council partnered with the Cleveland School District to create a high school job readiness program for the construction industry. Because of such programs, hundreds of city residents in recent years have seized the opportunity to pull themselves from poverty and into a meaningful career with a pension and health care benefits.

The main objection to the bills from those who support CBAs is that only a small number of cities and municipalities attempt to enforce local hiring. A broad-based ban constitutes a grave, ideological overreach intended to stifle the community building efforts of construction unions. 

Wondolowski concludes:

The bottom line is there is not a mandate on any municipality in Ohio to have these requirements and in fact only a few, including Cleveland, do. It is difficult to understand why those in Columbus feel a statewide prohibition on local hiring requirements is necessary.

When the people within a city are meaningfully employed, small businesses within that city prosper. When small businesses prosper, they grow. When they grow, they typically and naturally build and reinvest in the city. It’s a cycle that we call success, but the passage of these bills would destroy the most critical part of that cycle.


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