Hire the best, say Ohio trade unionists

CLEVELAND – Hundreds of members of Ohio’s building trades unions will be telling the Ohio School Facilities Commission in Columbus April 22 to “Hire the Best!” by not taking the lowest and worst contract bids.

At issue is which companies the school commission will hire to do $23 billion worth of school construction. Ohio’s public school buildings, rated the fourth worst in the nation, are due to be rebuilt over the next 10 years, financed by a state school levy passed four years ago.

The building trades, along with the rest of Ohio’s trade unions, worked hard for passage of the levy. The unions met with school boards all over the state and received promises that construction contracts would include standards requiring reputable contractors to do the work.

Imagine the shock among Cleveland trades workers when one of the first contracts went to an out-of-state company with an extremely disreputable work history. The contractor, Dore & Associates, was barred from doing work in Minnesota and fined by the EPA for various violations of the law, including hiring workers with fraudulent asbestos-training certificates.

John Hays High School, an older building filled with asbestos, is being partially demolished. Asbestos is a hazardous material that must be removed under strict federal guidelines by certified personnel.

When Dore & Associates, a Michigan-based company, showed up at the Cleveland high school and started working, hundreds of Laborers Local 310 members picketed with signs saying, “Barred from Minnesota, Fine for Cleveland children!” and “Need work, apply in Michigan!”

“While we have Clevelanders with proper training in the unemployment line,” Laborers Local 310 Business Manager James Deane said, “a company that was fined by EPA and restricted from doing work in another state for violations is doing the work in our city.”

Hiring reputable contractors with good work histories gives an edge to union contractors. But school boards that are honest are pressured by disreputable nonunion contractors who come in with low-ball bids and then threaten to sue if the contract goes to a higher bidder.

Penetration by disreputable nonunion contractors would be far less of a problem in Ohio if the state Legislature, dominated by ultra-conservative, right-wing Republicans, had not removed Ohio’s Prevailing Wage Requirement from school construction. School boards and skilled union workers are now reaping the bitter fruit of that move.

The Federal Prevailing Wage Law was passed in 1931 with the purpose, in part, of making it easier to put qualified workers on New Deal construction projects. The Ohio law is based on the federal law.

Several Ohio public officials, including Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, are scheduled to speak at the April 22 rally in Columbus. If the unions and supporting public officials are unable to turn around the present poor performance of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, the real losers will be millions of taxpayers – who rightfully expect the best possible school construction for their tax dollars – and the children who attend the schools.

The author can be reached at wallyk@ncweb.com.