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County commissioner seek opinion on TJX labor

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Excavation work continues at the TJX / HomeGoods site in Lordstown as seen from Ellsworth Bailey Road Wednesday afternoon.

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners want the Ohio Attorney General to weigh in on whether they can require private companies receiving tax breaks to pay construction workers the area’s prevailing wage.

The commissioners Wednesday adopted a resolution “emphatically” supporting the use of local workers to construct the TJX / HomeGoods distribution center on Hallock Young Road and Ellsworth Bailey Road in Lordstown.

The commissioners gave the company a 75-percent tax abatement for 10 years on the improvements the company makes on the now empty property, but did not make any demands beforehand requiring local workers to be used or requiring the construction workers to be paid a prevailing wage as some other Ohio communities do.

Prevailing wages in Ohio are calculated on a county-by-county basis and for the different trades. In Trumbull County, the range is as low as $25.50 per hour for someone working in asbestos abatement — or $39.92 after fringe benefits are added — and as high as $41.92 per hour for an elevator mechanic — or $68.81 with fringe benefits — according to ACTOhio.org.

The commissioners are seeking the Ohio Attorney General’s opinion after the Trumbull County prosecutor found no law that explicitly prevents or allows that type of language in abatement agreements, Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said. That was in 2014, well before the TJX project took off.

Because the contract with TJX / HomeGoods is already in place, the possible new abatement language would only apply to new companies pursuing abatements in the county.

Tradesmen in various local unions have been going to the commissioners’ meetings to pressure them to do something about the issue.

“I want to thank the commissioners for the resolution of support, but also there’s a lot of work to still be done with legislation. Obviously getting that legislation in as soon as possible would help the community as a whole,” said Jim Taylor, the business representative for Painters Local 476.

Commissioner Dan Polivka said he has been calling TJX representatives to see if they’ll consider using local labor.

“I called a couple times and haven’t received a call back, and that is kind of disturbing to me,” Polivka said.

The company returned calls before the abatement was approved, Polivka said.

Commissioner Frank Fuda said they are going to study language other counties use in abatement agreements to form something similar for Trumbull County.

One person asked the commissioners if TJX asked for the abatement or if they were just given it. Polivka said they asked for it, and Cantalamessa said it is one of the tools the county has.

“I think whenever we try to attract and encourage investment in Trumbull County we need to — look, we’re one of several communities that are vying for these same jobs — we need to make Trumbull County attractive and a place where companies like TJX want to call home. So, tax incentives are one of those vehicles we use to do that,” Cantalamessa said.

Robert Gerst, business manager for Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 179, said when businesses don’t use the prevailing wage to pay their construction crews, the workers and communities lose out on dollars they ought to have. And when companies bring in out-of-state workers, the workers are unlikely to pay local taxes at all.

“I think by failing to have this language in place, the people in Lordstown and Trumbull County are really missing out on good income,” Gerst said.

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