by Andy Brownfield
Committee members want to change way contracts are written to ensure fair wages
A City Council committee wants Cincinnati’s leadership to
investigate whether workers in a Clifton Heights development project are being paid
what they’re supposed to.
The Strategic Growth Committee on Wednesday passed a motion
asking the city administration to report back on wage payments to workers on
the U Square development. The project includes a parking garage as well as
residential and commercial units.
Under Ohio law, workers on projects funded by cities must be paid
a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on
a similar project.
The city only has money invested in the garage, and the state of Ohio recently ruled that
workers on other parts don’t have to be paid prevailing wage.
Council members Wendell Young, Cecil Thomas and Laure Quinlivan
produced a video in which they interviewed carpenters who said they were being
paid less than the prevailing wage.
At issue is a letter from developer Towne Properties that says
the company will pay all workers prevailing wage anyway. Arn Bortz with Towne
Properties said his company cuts a check to subcontractors respecting that
agreement, so if workers aren’t being paid the proper amount it’s their fault.
City Solicitor John Curp told members of the Strategic Growth
Committee that under city and state law, the subcontractors are not required to
pay workers a prevailing wage on parts of the project that are not getting
public funding. He said the letter from the developer does not hold the weight
as a legal contract.
Young, Thomas, Quinlivan and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld all
expressed the need to overhaul the way the city enters into development
contracts to better protect workers.
However, City Manager Milton Dohoney hinted that overzealous
requirements for high wages could chase off some development projects.
He said that a project like U Square is tied to the Clifton
location because of its proximity to the University of Cincinnati, but the city
can’t be too restrictive when it comes to businesses that could expand
Dohoney said the city also doesn’t currently have the manpower to
do the kind of aggressive enforcement that the council members were asking for.
Councilman Young countered that he would like to see the city be
as aggressive with enforcement as they are with making economic development
“We want to change the rules of the game to make sure everyone is
treated equal,” Young said.
by Andy Brownfield
Council members urge city to investigate worker wages
Some members of city council agreed that the city needs to
take a hard look at the way it inspects projects done with taxpayer
money, but they took no action during a special joint committee meeting
Thursday to discuss allegations that workers were being underpaid at the
University Square development in Clifton.
Council members Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Wendell
Young presented a video investigation they conducted, which included interviews
with workers on the project who claim they were being taken advantage of
by the University Square developers.
Under Ohio and Cincinnati law, workers on projects funded
by taxpayers must be paid a so-called “prevailing wage” (the same as a
unionized worker) and be given benefits.
In Cincinnati, that wage is $23.17 an hour for the carpentry work done by the workers interviewed for the video.
The workers in the video claimed they were paid $500 for working a 60-hour week.
“Five-hundred dollars a week to me when you don’t have a
job, that’s a lot,” said Garrick Foxx, a construction worker on the
“But actually when you average it out, it’s not. Like to
the hour-wise it’s probably like 9-something, so like I could actually
make that working at McDonalds.”
The University Square developer — a collaboration between
Towne Properties and Al. Neyer, Inc. — is building a complex with a
parking garage, residential units and retail space.
The City of Cincinnati has $21 million invested in the
parking garage. The State of Ohio recently ruled that the prevailing
wage provisions apply only workers constructing the garage that the city
has money invested in.
Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said the controversy was
ginned up by unions and it hasn’t been proven that workers are being
“All of this was started by the unions themselves because
they became very unhappy when the State of Ohio said a sizeable portion
of our project was not subject to prevailing wage,” Bortz said. “They
tried then to discredit and intimidate anyone who is on the other side
of the table.”
Bortz said he agreed to pay a prevailing wage even to
workers who worked on parts of the project not subject to the law. He
said he cuts a check to the subcontractors based on that agreement.
“Whether any of those subcontractors might have been
unfair to the workers, we do not know,” Bortz said. “If they were, they
should be made to be fair.”
Deputy City Solicitor Aaron Herzig said if the contract
required a particular wage be paid and it wasn’t, the city can bring a
breach of contract action against the developers. But to start an
investigation, a complaint must first be made.The council members asked that their investigation be considered a formal complaint.