OUR CONSTRUCTION WORK FORCE NEEDS LINE UP WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENTS’ GOALS

OCA was gratified to learn of the Ohio Supreme Court’s favorable ruling in (Cleveland v. Ohio) upholding Ohio Revised Code Section 9.75 which prohibits cities and other governmental entities from requiring contractors to employ a certain number or percentage of person who reside in that city or political subdivision. This issue began over three years ago when the City of Akron first mandated a fifty percent (50%) hiring quota on a number of their projects.

Over time, the issue morphed into a discussion of whether or not the state legislature has the ability to enact this prohibition, thereby over-ruling the local law. In Ohio, the ability of local governments to create local preferences in law is called “Home Rule.” Home Rule is specifically identified in the Ohio Constitution and is a power local governments doggedly protect. Local governments do not like it when the state legislature overrules their local laws. Because ORC 9.75 is already a state law that would override local law, the case was argued before the Ohio Supreme Court by the Ohio Attorney General’s office in defense of the state. The opposition was presented by the City of Cleveland. The arguments were as much, if not more, about the legislature’s right to overrule the local law as they were about the practicalities of a local government placing residency mandates upon employees of a contractor.

In filings offered in support of the state’s position, OCA’s goal was to raise the issue that governmental entities should not be permitted to mandate where any construction employee can live as a condition for working in any particular city whether it’s impactful for one employee or 100 employees. A number of years ago, local governmental entities were prohibited by the Supreme Court from making similar demands on their own employees. From the private sector contractor’s perspective, it should be even further out-of-bounds for a project owner to mandate where their private sector employees must reside. Contractors are private businesses who work across a wide geographical area. Their work should not serve as pawns of individual local governments to achieve goals other than building a project. The impact of these local residency mandates go beyond the limits of a local government’s jurisdiction and into the lives of many other Ohio citizens. In these cases, the state legislature does have and should exercise their legislatively granted powers to reign in local governments when those governments enact laws that reach beyond their jurisdictional boundaries.

With the use of public funds, somehow, the equation changes in how some governmental entities perceive their authority in dictating how efficiently and safely the services being provided by contractors are executed. If the city would buy a truck, it wouldn’t demand that 50% of the people who built the truck live in the city. If a new business would move into a city and be given tax incentives, it may place a condition on how many jobs are created but I have yet to see a mandate on prescribing how many of those jobs must be filled by residents. If they did, there is a good chance they would lose the new business. With a contractor, it should not be acceptable to dictate not only what the job is but also how it should be staffed. The contractor is responsible for the quality. The contractor is responsible for the schedule. The contractor is responsible for keeping the workforce safe. With this issue behind us, we can now look to create ways to better incorporate the individuals local governments are attempting to bring into the industry in a manner that benefits both the potential employee who is truly interested in making a career in the construction field and the employer that truly needs a skilled employee. With the emphasis on construction work force expansion that is sweeping, literally, the entire nation, one would hope the desire for government to find meaningful, long-term employment for their residents would be blended effectively with the construction industry’s needs for committed individuals to enter into the construction work force. That can most effectively be accomplished by means other than government dictating where the personnel on the contractor’s payroll must live.