COLUMBUS, Ohio – School board members and superintendents, public officials, and 1,400 building trades workers demonstrated in front of the Ohio School Facilities Commission here, April 22. They demanded some control over how $360 billion in tax dollars raised by an Ohio levy four years ago is spent in rebuilding Ohio’s run-down public schools.

“We demand the right to have our local skilled work force build the schools,” said state Rep. Shirley Smith from Cleveland.

The commission is signing contracts with low-bid, sometimes out-of-state contractors without regard to their qualifications. Building Trades Attorney Jack Welson said a new school built in the town of Gibsonberg one year ago was in such bad shape the only solution is to tear it down and start over. “The roof leaks in 26 schoolrooms,” he said, “and the underground plumbing is so bad the sewage backs up and spills onto the bathroom floors.”

The rally coincided with a hearing in the statehouse on the school commission’s work. Four Ohio congressmen sent a communication to Gov. Bob Taft demanding changes in commission policy and procedures. Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell left the hearing long enough to address the rally, calling for jobs and quality schools.

Ohio Building Trades President Gary Schaeffer read a “responsible contractors” resolution, which was submitted at the hearing and approved by the rally. The resolution sets standards for any contractor submitting bids, including a five years or more history of approved construction work, licensed workers, an accredited apprentice training program, no brokering out to unqualified subcontractors, payment into workers compensation and unemployment compensation funds, payment of local taxes where work is done, no violations of Fair Labor Standards, and a history of compliance with safety standards.

Cleveland Building Trades President Lori Soggs, who mobilized nearly 1,000 union members for the rally, joined Cleveland state Rep. Mike Skindell in ending the rally with the crowd joining in with the cry, “Jobs! Quality Schools!”

Randy Gray, member of Toledo Plumbers Local 150 and Musicians Local 1000, sang Woody Guthrie union songs during the rally, and led the assembled union members singing “Solidarity Forever.”

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