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Trade unions frustrated with commissioners

WARREN — Trade unions seeking for county commissioners to require local labor in agreements for projects in which Trumbull County grants tax abatements are getting frustrated with a lack of action.

Although the three county commissioners appear to support the idea of requiring local labor in the agreements that give companies a property tax break, project after project cycles through without the clause, said Tony Deley, business manager for Ironworkers Local 207, and Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.

Reilly and Deley voiced their concerns Thursday at the commissioners regular meeting, something local trade unions have been doing for more than a year in an attempt to get the clause added to enterprise zone agreements — which often feature property tax breaks in exchange for job creation standards.

And although commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa, Frank Fuda and Dan Polivka have made sympathetic comments, nothing has been done to add the clause.

According to the commissioners, the holdup has been in getting a legal opinion to verify the county is able to add language that requires local labor forces to be used in the construction or renovation projects receiving the tax break.

But Deley and Reilly argue other communities use such terms. And Deley said the commissioners should also set wage requirements for the companies to receive the incentives, because if the companies pay less than a living wage that creates burdens on households and local government services.

“These aren’t new, local mom and pop stores. These are multi-million (dollars), established national companies seeking tax breaks. And when they offer $12 (an hour) jobs in exchange for tax relief, that is bringing down the standard of living,” Deley said.

Commissioners turned the issue over to the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office last year to see if a plan developed by Nicholas Coggins of the county’s planning commission would pass muster. The plan would offer companies more “points” on their tax incentive applications if they promise to use local labor and guarantee certain salaries for their permanent workforce.

In a July meeting, commissioners said they turned the issue over to attorney Bill Danso, a Trumbull County assistant prosecutor, to ensure the provisions would be legal.

Cantalamessa said the office has not been able to find any “clear legal authority” on the topic and turned the question over to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to seek guidance, and awaits an opinion.

Reilly said in the meantime, local workers and the local economy are losing out.

“We continue to hear the same things — that it is with the prosecutor or the AG, time after time. It seems like they are kicking the can down the road. This is how we move our community forward. Keeping this money in the community helps retail, helps restaurants, helps everything in the community, in the Valley,” Reilly said.

Deley said pressure the trade union applied last year did lead to developers of the TJX distribution center to use some local labor.

“This is a constant battle and someone needs to pull the trigger to hold developers to a higher standard. This is about safety and quality work. I don’t know all the politics involved, but it can be done and it has been done,” Deley said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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