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.