Economic Development

Officials Reassure Labor Leaders on TJX Project

WARREN, Ohio – Participants in a meeting Wednesday of local officials and are labor leaders largely agreed that better communication will alleviate concerns over local labor participation in construction of a regional distribution center expected to cost in excess of $160 million to build.

The Trumbull County Board of Commissioners convened the meeting of representatives from the area’s building trades to provide an update on the ongoing dialogue between TJX Companies Inc., which is building a 1.2-million-square-foot regional distribution center in Lordstown to serve its HomeGoods group of stores.

Labor leaders have raised concerns in recent weeks over local participation in the project. At Wednesday’s meeting, county commissioners offered their assurances that the Massachusetts-based retailer intends to use local workers in construction.

While the county has strived to present itself as attractive to business and investment, officials also want to make sure that local workers are used in building projects, Commissioner Dan Polivka said.

“Obviously we all want to support our local businesses and our local contractors and our local unions that spend the money in our community and not take it back elsewhere,” he said.

The concern started after the hiring of Catamount Constructors Inc., based in Lakewood., Colo., as general contractor for the project and a lack of communication with some local trades subsequently.

Polivka, who said he had met over the weekend with representatives of local labor, reported he spoke with TJX officials Tuesday. “They have given the impression from the president on down that they want to hire local and support the trades,” he said.

“They have been consistent in that message,”affirmed Marty Loney, business agent for Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 396. Local trades “just want a fair shot” at those contracts.

Similarly, state Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-63 Bazetta, said company officials “have assured me time and time again” that they want to use local construction workers.

O’Brien also pointed out that Catamount has to go to TJX for approval on every contract. When concerns were raised about a steel fabricator contractor from the South that was going to be used, TJX decided not to hire that company.

“They are committed to using local workers,” the state senator said.

Polivka emphasized that the company has kept commitments it made to place 170 acres of land at the project site into a conservation easement and to give $500,000 to the Lordstown schools.

TJX recently extended the bid deadline for the steel erection package to get more bids, Polivka said. Bids now will be opened July 9 for that phase, and the company will seek bids for other packages after that.

Although TJX has reached out to Plumbers & Pipefitters, communication with all the local trades hasn’t been consistent, Loney said.

“There’s still no communication,” Tony Deley, business manager for Ironworkers Local 207, complained. “None of our contractors have been reached out to to discuss numbers, to discuss changes on the project.”

During the negotiations to bring TJX to Lordstown, the focus appeared to be on the 1,000-plus jobs the distribution center would provide once it was up and running, and “no focus on building the plant” and employing local workers in its construction, Commissioner Frank Fuda said.

Commissioners are studying the possibility of including language in future incentive agreements that would require contractors to pay prevailing wages or a certain percentage of construction hires come from the local area.

“We appreciate that. Moving forward, we need to have some type of language that makes it a fair playing field for everybody,” Loney said.

“We want a definitive answer to come to something workable,” Polivka added.

“We can strengthen language in a practical and sensible way without alienating any future development,” Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said.

Nick Coggins, economic development coordinator for the Trumbull County Planning Commission, described an option he is researching that would provide a points system in incentive agreements. Projects could receive a higher number of points for depending on use of local labor and potentially either increase the length or the percentage of the abatement based on that score.

Don Crane, Ohio director of the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, called for a provision with “some kind of teeth” if goals aren’t met. While a prevailing wage can’t be attached to a tax abatement agreement, “you can attach language that will bring some [local] workers into the project,” he said.

The county will explore options, including gathering language regarding what is done in other communities to require local labor be used on projects and seeking an opinion from the state attorney general, Cantalamessa said. The county is waiting for representatives of the building trades to provide that language before seeking the attorney general’s opinion.

“We just have to be careful because we don’t want to alienate any type of future development or investment,” he said.

Joseph Guarino, an attorney for the Western Reserve Building Trades, said Lucas County has a project labor agreement ordinance that kicks in on projects in excess of $100,000.

Following the meeting officials and labor leaders appeared satisfied for the most part.

“We’re moving in the right direction. We’re getting some proper information,” said Carlton Ingram, business agent for the District 2 Office of operating Engineers Local 66. The county commissioners have had some “frank discussions” with TJX officials about what was promised and what was expected “and hopefully we can move on from there.”

“It was a good meeting. We’re headed in the right direction,” Polivka affirmed.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.