The House State Government took up again Wednesday the debate on whether governments should be able to require contractors to hire locals on public construction projects. 

The committee heard from supporters of SB152, Sen. Joe Uecker’s (R-Loveland) measure to ban local governments from including the hiring mandates in public contracts. The House has already passed a similar measure, HB180, sponsored by the committee chairman, Rep. Ron Maag (R-Lebanon). A prohibition on the hiring mandates was removed from the biennial transportation budget, HB52 (Grossman) prior to its passage last year.

Committee members approved an amendment to create a carve-out for one Cleveland project but batted down Democrats’ other proposals to create exemptions.

Members accepted an amendment from Rep. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), the vice chair, which she said would allow the Ohio Department of Transportation to continue to comply with a federally required job-training program for enrollment of women and minority contractors on the Opportunity Corridor project in Cleveland.

Majority Republicans tabled additional amendments from Reps. Martin Sweeney (D-Cleveland) and Stephen Slesnick (D-Canton). Slesnick sought changes to allow cities to require that up to 20 percent of workers be local, or that up to 5 percent of hours be performed by local workers. Sweeney sought an exemption for his hometown, saying Cleveland only enacted its local hiring ordinance after learning that contractors weren’t following through on voluntary commitments. He also proposed an exception for projects where no state money is used.

Groups supporting the bill in committee Wednesday included the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA); Association Builders and Contractors of Ohio (ABC); Cincinnati-based Allied Construction Industries; and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Ohio (ACEC). The Buckeye Institute gave interested party testimony that also criticized local hiring requirements. 

Tom Shreves, executive director of the Cleveland NECA chapter, said cities’ residency requirements go against the spirit of a 2009 Ohio Supreme Court ruling striking down local governments’ ability to require their own employees to live within community boundaries. He said the “needless and nonsensical restrictions” dilute the pool of qualified labor and create problems for workers themselves. 

Supporters also emphasized the federal constitutional requirements that prohibit enforcement of local hiring requirements on out-of-state contractors. 

Terry Phillips, executive director of Allied Construction Industries, said Cincinnati’s residency ordinance has been a problem since its enactment three years ago. “While local hiring regulations are designed to help residents gain employment, they have had the opposite effect in Cincinnati. They also prevent fair and open competition. In the case of border cities and counties like Cincinnati, local hire provides an unfair advantage to out of state contractors who take the work without any obligation of compliance,” he said. 

“Construction is an in-demand job sector currently experiencing significant labor shortages in Ohio. Opponents of this bill claim they support local hiring requirements because they want to develop a qualified construction workforce. If local communities are serious about developing local construction work forces, they should partner with proven construction craft trainers, like ABC, and work to promote careers in construction, recruit interested individuals and then support their enrollment in U.S. Department of Labor certified apprenticeship training programs. Until then, a local hiring mandate will not be achievable,” said ABC Ohio’s Bryan Williams.

Don Mader of ACEC Ohio said engineering work is not always dependent on being on site at a project, and technological advancements allow engineers to work on projects in multiple cities in quick succession. “This kind of efficiency should be encouraged, because it enables local governments to obtain high quality engineering services at a reasonable cost,” he said.

Opponents of the legislation submitted written testimony, saying hiring requirements help build an inclusive workforce and ensure local tax dollars promote local work opportunities.

Martin McGann, senior vice president of advocacy for the Greater Cleveland Partnership, said in written remarks the legislation would hamper the use in Northeast Ohio of “community benefit agreements … an important tool for regional and local governments to ensure that public expenditures result in real community gains such as an inclusive workforce, apprentice opportunities, minority contracting and local hiring. 

“We work very closely with the city of Cleveland and other key stakeholders — including contractors and developers — to create CBAs and other workforce development initiatives that yield a high return on investment for our community but also create opportunities for a skilled and diverse workforce to have better access to economic opportunity,” he said. 

The Construction Employers Association, a group of 100-plus contractors in and around Cleveland, also submitted written opposition testimony, calling the Northeast Ohio city’s Fannie M. Lewis Cleveland Resident Employment law “a central pillar of a Cleveland-wide public-private effort to recruit and employ Clevelanders on construction projects in Cleveland.” 

“A state ban on local residency efforts would hinder contractors’ ability to meet the needs and desires of the public and private clients they serve – to ensure that local development dollars build skills and career opportunities for the local community,” stated the testimony from the association’s CEO, Tim Linville.