Local Labor Protests at Old Dominion Site

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Representatives of local trades conducted a job action this morning at the site of the $7 million Old Dominion Freight Line terminal project to call attention to the lack of Mahoning Valley organized labor being used on the project. 

Some 50 labor leaders and members of the skilled trades – joined by the giant inflatable rat used to spotlight anti-labor practices – were lined up on Tod Avenue Southwest in front of the construction site for the proposed 30,422-square-foot building. 

The focus of the project was a tax abatement agreement approved Monday night by Lordstown Village Council that provides a 40% tax abatement on real property taxes for 10 years. That agreement now must be approved by Trumbull County Commissioners. 

“We’re here to start holding our elected officials accountable for giving away our tax money and putting language on the back end of the tax money as far as hiring people in the area but not using language on the millions of hours lost on the construction of the project,” says Tony Deley, business manager for Ironworkers Local 207. 

Old Dominion is moving from its Girard location to the new Lordstown terminal, which will have 59 loading docks. Furst Construction Co. of Salt Lake City, which has constructed other terminals for Old Dominion, is project manager for the Lordstown terminal. 

The freight company, based in Thomasville, N.C., has promised to hire 20 additional employees within a year, but Deley and other local trades representatives are concerned about the “hundreds of construction jobs” that are being filled by out-of-town workers on the project. Those are well-paying jobs with benefits that could support people who live here and patronize local businesses.   

“It’s time to stop cutting us off at the knees. We’re getting tired of it,” Deley says. “If you think the economy’s good when you’ve got a dollar store at every corner, you are wrong. And if we’re not out working, we’re not giving back.”

Jim Ledenko, business manager for Laborers Local 935, supports bringing companies into the area but is concerned about granting tax abatements without stipulating jobs for local workers. 

“We have 20% unemployment locally in this county and these companies are coming in from out of state and we do not have an opportunity to work on these jobs,” he says. “We’ve been dealing with this for the last couple years, with the TJX project and now this.” 

Local labor leaders similarly were distressed when it did not appear TJX Companies Inc. was going to utilize local labor for construction of its $170 million distribution center in Lordstown. Deley commended TJX officials for working with local labor to reach a compromise.        

“We didn’t get as much as we wanted, but they did come to the table,” Deley says. 

Old Dominion is building a new terminal on Tod Avenue Southwest in Lordstown to replace its current site in Girard.

The labor leaders contrasted the Old Dominion project with the General Motors/LG Chem battery plant project under construction on property adjacent to the terminal project. That project’s contractor, Michigan-based Barton Mallow, is utilizing “all union skilled trades,” Deley says. 

Marty Loney, business agent for Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 396, reported at least three local companies bid on the mechanical package for the Old Dominion project, but the work went to a company from Utah. “I don’t understand how you can make money coming from Utah,” he says.   

Contractors and workers are coming in from “a little bit of everywhere,” affirmed Carlton Ingram, business agent for the District 2 Office of Operating Engineers Local 66. 

“We want the money to stay in the Valley to support the local businesses here. It’s plain and simple,” he says. “The unions, the building trades, we helped build this Valley. We take pride in it and we want to continue that.”  

Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill says he sees both sides of the issue, but points out that when union locals are at full employment, as some are, that requires contractors to bring in members from outside the area. “That isn’t really local union labor, is it?” he says. 

Rocky DiGennaro, business agent for the 400-member Laborers International Local 125, also pointed to Furst’s use of a contractor for the site work that doesn’t want to sign a collective bargaining agreement. 

“This is what’s happening in Trumbull County through tax abatements,” he says.  

Trumbull County Commissioners have had “long conversations” about the Old Dominion project with the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s office and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber about establishing agreements with the unions, says Commissioner Frank Fuda. The commissioners are also arranging a meeting with union leadership to discuss establishing agreements for the project.

The commissioners’ task is to ensure whatever agreement is reached ensures local workers are used for the Old Dominion project and puts the chamber in the best position to continue promoting the county to incoming businesses.

“We’re hoping to have a meeting with the unions and the chamber to discuss the best possibility to make sure we can keep business coming here along with the agreement we have to make,” he says.

The coronavirus pandemic is a factor in that decision, he says. A former union member himself, Fuda says he gets “a little leery” about the idea of bringing in out-of-town workers who may contribute to the spread of COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus.

Before the commissioners can make a decision on how to proceed with establishing agreements with the unions, they are researching how agreements with the unions have worked in other already, including Lucas County and the city of Canton, Fuda says. Trumbull County is also awaiting feedback from the prosecutor’s office, as well as the Ohio Attorney General’s office on what they can and cannot do, he says.

“We don’t want to just jump and do something and it’s not what we should be doing,” Fuda says. “We have a little research to do before we actually meet with the unions.”

On Monday, Lordstown Village Council approved a 40% tax abatement for a 10-year period for the Old Dominion project. The vote to pass the abatement now goes to the commissioners. Fuda says he hopes both the abatement vote and the union agreement are on the agenda for the commissioners’ next regular meeting on June 10.

Pictured: Anthony Deley, financial secretary, treasurer and business manager for Ironworkers Local 207, was among the labor leaders protesting at the construction site of Old Dominion’s new terminal.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.