The Columbus school board March 18 voted to approve an amendment that modifies the requirements for contractors who want to bid on district projects, which some argued could favor union over non-union employers.
Board President Terry Boyd said the reasons for passing this amendment is not only to ensure the district is following the same guidelines implemented by the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission (OSFC) in July, 2007, but also to reduce the ambiguity of interpretation of this board policy by contractors.
Boyd said the facilities commission does not require Columbus to follow their guidelines but he felt it made sense to do so.
"It is a misnomer that this a prevailing wage policy. This is not a prevailing wage policy, and when I ask our expert about that, they tell us that’s an issue that’s null and void because wages that are paid today are on par with any prevailing wage language. I see no real reason why we shouldn’t clarify the language with this policy and move forward," said Boyd.
Stephanie Groce was the lone dissenter on this amendment.
"I respectfully disagree. I think we’re doing more than that," said Groce, who pointed out the language of the amendment on the second reading left out a clause that reserves the right for the board to waive the bidder’s failure to meet all the requirements of the amended policy.
Boyd said that clause should have remained on the policy and will be added back on.
Shane Ostrowski, Director of Government Affairs for the Association of Builders and Contractors (ABC) said his organization represents open shop contractors, which includes around 80 percent of all commercial construction agents, and contractors in the state of Ohio, adding that he was very disappointed with the passage of the revised policy.
"We really feel the remodeled requirements will limit the amount of contractors who actually bid on school construction projects, thus raising the cost of construction throughout Ohio and especially Columbus," said Ostrowski.
Ostrowski said his organization worked with OSFC to draft the new guidelines but the commission did not follow his organization’s advice in certain areas, such as the prevailing wage violation clause.
"The revised policy is not saying contractors have to have prevailing wages but if someone has had more than three prevailing wage violations in the past ten years, that can exclude them from bidding. It’s very broad," said Ostrowski.
Ostrowski said the prior policy allowed contractors who had been debarred from public contracts for prevailing wage violations up to three violations in a two-year period over the last 10 years, rather than three violations in ten years overall, which is what the amended policy will now follow.
"I don’t know of any major company that has millions of dollars in labor costs or employee cost that doesn’t make a mistake on payroll," said Ostrowski.
Ostrowski also said while there is a clause in the board policy that will give them the option to waive requirements, it does not guarantee the board or staff in the future will.
"You can’t speak for the board or administration in ten years; it’s totally their discretion. There’s no policy on how to use that discretion. You have a contract on what their policy is and their ability to waive or not. Why would you want to bid when there’s a possibly they won’t waive?" said Ostrowski?
Mark Hunter, a Columbus resident, spoke out at the meeting in favor of the district’s new policy, saying it only makes sense to bring their standards up to correspond with OSFC’s new guidelines, and he also favors requiring contractors to give their employees adequate benefits.
"An employer who offers benefits such as training, health insurance and retirement benefits may be slightly more expensive when bidding a job. The market supports skilled craftspeople being supplied with these benefits," said Hunter.
Mike Wiles also spoke during public comments and said this revised policy will cause Columbus residents and contractors to lose out on projects because it favors out- of-city and out-of-state contractors.
"If you want a prevailing wage then stand up, say it out loud, be counted and let’s debate that issue. I realize many of you have accepted money and endorsements from the unions during the election and you need to repay your political debts, as well you should. Just not on my back and not on my pocket," said Wiles.
Boyd dismissed Wiles’ comments as grossly inaccurate.
"Mr. Wiles comes before us with all kinds of statistics and statements but really these statistics are erroneous. This does not prevent any Columbus resident or any Columbus contractor from getting a job; in fact, we encourage that. It’s a shame that people will get up in a public meeting and misguide with their comments," said Boyd.
Boyd also said the opinion that the board gives special treatment to unions is not true.
"If you organize labor contractors to take advantage of this policy to build some of our buildings and our buildings get built appropriately, they come in under budget and are on time, I couldn’t care less. But I happen to know that even tonight we approved a contract with a non-union contractor who is the same contractor who the county wouldn’t hire. He sued the county, he lost, but we didn’t say ‘We’re not going to hire you because the county didn’t hire you,’" said Boyd.