YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With organized labor locals representing building trades near or at full employment, finding new members to fill openings remains a priority.
Local projects include construction of the Trumbull Energy Center that got underway this year and ongoing work at the Ultium Cells plant, both in Lordstown, and road upgrades throughout the Mahoning Valley. In addition, some locals have members on projects elsewhere in Ohio as well as outside the state.
About 600 members of area trades remain at Ultium Cells, although that work is starting to slow down, says Martin Loney, president of the Western Reserve Building Trades Council and business agent for Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 396.
“For the most part, everybody’s been working for two-and-a-half or three years,” Loney says.
Representatives of the individual trades concur that work has been plentiful in recent years.
Ironworkers Local 207, which has 350 members, covers Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and parts of Ashtabula, Portage and Geauga counties in Ohio and Mercer, Lawrence and Venango counties and the upper portions of Beaver and Butler counties in Pennsylvania. Work includes a “big project” at the Tenaris IPSKO plant in Koppel, Pa., a four-story office building for Lindy Paving in New Galilee, Pa., and Trumbull Energy Center, says Tony Deley, business manager.
“We are 100% employed,” he says.
“We’re very busy. We’re pretty much at full employment right now,” reports Jim Ledenko, business manager for Laborers Local 935.
Some of the Laborers’ 350 members just started work at Trumbull Energy Center and are wrapping up at Ultium Cells. Construction will begin soon on the Ohio Route 46 and Route 82 interchange, which should take a couple of years, Ledenko says. “We’ve got a lot of members in Kentucky and Tennessee right now building battery plants just like the one in Lordstown.”
Members of Roofers Local 71, which covers Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio and Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania, “probably worked more weekends than we have in a very long time,” including “some Sunday work,” business manager Nancy Weibel says.
“We have a ton of work and big projects that have come into our area,” she says. “Look at the [Ultium] battery plant and we have other huge things coming as well. We’re a good location.”
Roofers also are working outside the area, including at the main branch of Kent State University, she says.
Like his fellow labor leaders, Brian Wydick, business representative for Operating Engineers Local 66, reports he has members engaged at Ultium Cells and the power plant. “We’re close to peak employment for everybody,” he says.
Millwrights and Piledrivers Local 1090, a statewide local that has about 2,400 members, still has members in Ultium, although fewer than the 100 it had at peak for about two years, representative Dan Siembida says.
“We do a lot of maintenance, so our out-of-work list is very short,” he says.
“We’re pretty steady, I’d say,” says Scott Satterlee, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 64. “I have a few people off but almost everybody is working.”
Projects that Local 64’s approximately 400 members are working on include the Salem Regional Medical Center outpatient medical building at Firestone Farms in Columbiana, a Sheetz gas station and convenience store in North Jackson, and the Prosper Centre plaza in Boardman.
Although local trades report strong employment of members, 2023 manhours are down year-to-date by about 9% compared to last year, says Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. But 2022 was the best year in a decade or more for manhours, he notes.
“We’re down a little bit from that but still tracking good,” Reilly says.
Earlier this year, the Builders Association negotiated new contracts covering the carpenters, floor layers, ironworkers, millwrights, piledrivers and sheet metal workers, he continues. The negotiations were “a bit more difficult this year” because high inflation and other economic issues from last year carried over into the spring when the negotiations were taking place but went smoothly overall.
Settlement increases were in the 3.5% range, according to Reilly.
After an industrial building is erected on a site and operations begin, what Reilly calls “process” or “line-type” work continues on the interior. This involves millwrights, iron workers, electricians and other tradespeople, he says.
Members of Millwrights and Piledrivers Local 1090 are engaged locally at plants including Universal Stainless, Matalco and Vallourec, Siembida says.
“They bounce in and out doing maintenance in these facilities with our local contractors,” he says.
Manpower availability remains a critical issue for building trades unions and the companies that employ their members.
“We’re always hiring, I’m always taking applications,” the Roofers’ Weibel says.
The trade unions and Builders Association work together to recruit members, including through events such as the upcoming skilled trades expo. “I’m not sure that happens in other industries,” Reilly says.
Nearly 5,000 students will come through the expo during the two-day event. The show opens to the public in the evening for those looking for jobs.
Meanwhile, Plumbers Local 396 is preparing to start a new class for apprentices this month and will start taking applications through March for the September 2024 class. The most recent class was the largest the local had ever had, and all members are out to work. Even so, Loney expects membership levels to remain consistent with attrition from retirements, deaths or members leaving the area.
“We’re taking in new members almost weekly and interviewing almost weekly for new members,” Siembida says.
The Operating Engineers’ apprenticeship program, which runs 4,000 hours or four years, will open for applications in November and close Dec. 8. Operating engineers can take home $68,000 to $120,000 annually, not including fringe benefits.
In addition to advertising openings, Weibel says the Roofers rely on word-of-mouth recruiting. “My own members are key to recruiting somebody,” she says.
Starting hourly wage for apprentice roofers is $18.47; top rate for a journeyman is over $29 an hour and foreman’s rate is over $31 hourly.
Ironworkers have a four-year program, with the school year running from November through April, Deley says. Depending on experience level, individuals can get credit for two years and begin the program at its midpoint.
“Then if an individual is doing our scope of work on the nonunion side and they’re looking for a better avenue, we would bring him in as a journeyman ironworker” after getting necessary certifications, he says.
Trades union representatives are optimistic about future work, including Intel’s planned $20 billion investment in Ohio, and any projects that land at the 1,000-acre former Republic Steel site in Trumbull County. “That would be huge. That would be wonderful,” the Millwrights’ Siembida says.
Another potential opportunity is a proposed naval repair center that would be built in Lordstown. It would include construction of a ship component and equipment rotatable pool and material kitting facility.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen – the sub shop as everyone calls it,” Siembida says.
Following the June release of a congressional report showing 37% if the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered attack submarine force is unavailable because of maintenance issues, Bartlett Maritime Corp. submitted an update to its 2022 proposal to the Navy.
“We’ve just got to get the Pentagon to sign off on it. And I guess they’re getting fairly close with it,” Loney, the Building Trades Council president, says.
Loney also hopes that Mercy Health will move forward on its proposed Champion hospital, a project the health care provider paused last year.
Other big construction projects under discussion are a proposed senior apartment complex and behavioral health hospital in Liberty Township.
Across Ohio, projects by Intel, Honda and Google will create a “significant manpower request” for workers from the Mahoning Valley, says the Operating Engineers’ Wydick.
Pictured at top: Site preparation work has begun for the Trumbull Energy Center power plant under construction in Lordstown.