Affiliated Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council members and other area labor unions attended the Columbus Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors Meeting and called on the board to enter into a Community Benefits Agreement with the building trades on the $2 billion terminal project.
On Jan. 30, the message was made clear to the CRAA board that a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) will ensure equal terms and conditions of employment for minorities, women and workers of all races and genders for all the construction workers hired for the project.
During the meeting, four individuals spoke about the need for the CRAA to enter into an agreement for a CBA.
Colorado-based construction manager at risk (CMaR) Hensel Phelps was hired by the CRAA to perform preconstruction and construction services for the project to build the new $2 billion terminal at John Glenn International Airport in Columbus. Columbus-based Elford was hired as the general contractor.
According to Dorsey Hager, C/COBCTC Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Hensel Phelps broke off all CBA talks with the C/COBCTC after more than half a year of negotiations.
The new 1 million-square-foot terminal is set to replace the existing terminal, which was built in 1958 and has reached the end of its useful life.
With the initial $250 million in project funding approved, design work is underway, and construction could begin late in 2024. However, area residents may not get the opportunity to work on this massive project.
Hager noted the airport authority is not taking part in negotiations and put the responsibility solely on Hensel Phelps.
“It has been obvious the last seven months that Hensel Phelps wants all the benefits of a CBA, but at the same time, refuses to commit to the equal treatment of workers on your project,” Hager told the CRAA Board of Directors. “For their first community outreach event, they failed to invite the Columbus Building Trades or the Columbus NAACP. At their first meeting with potential contractors, a public meeting, they stated they were not going to require contractors to pay Prevailing Wages.”
During their negotiations, Hensel Phelps wanted exclusions or opt-outs for minority-owned and women-owned contractors, which Hager called a non-starter.
“Imagine telling your kids that you’re taking a Disney family vacation, but some of them have to stay home,” said Hager. “That’s what Hensel Phelps is asking of me. They want me to say to some workers, depending on who they work for, that they will be treated as an exception or an exclusion when it comes to equal treatment on your jobsite. Some workers will be an exception to the quality wages, healthcare and retirement others receive. In other words, equal treatment for workers stops at the construction site gate.”
He stressed that the C/COBCTC has a track record of completing projects on time, under budget and with a local and diverse workforce. `
Jahaan Harris, a member of IBEW Local 683, explained the benefits of Prevailing Wage to the board and how it guarantees fair compensation for workers and promotes economic stability within Central Ohio communities.
He also noted that Hensel Phelps has been caught evading Prevailing Wages on past projects.
“2,051 construction workers employed by Hensel Phelps were defrauded their rightful wages for their work on the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel project,” said Harris. “The State of California determined these workers were owed over $8 million in back wages and required the contractor pay $400,000 to reimburse the Labor Commission for its costs in investigating the violations.”
Furthermore, The Columbus Dispatch reported that Hensel Phelps defrauded workers when it was ordered to pay $2.8 million in May 2022, after an investigation found that they defrauded small, veteran-owned businesses.
Harris admitted he is skeptical Hensel Phelps will voluntarily agree to pay the Prevailing Wage and require all subcontractors to do the same.
“A CBA would ensure that all contractors pay the Prevailing Wage, and if a contractor does not comply, the workers have legal representation by our Local Unions,” he said. “As a community, we shouldn’t rely on the empty promises of an out-of-state contractor with a history of defrauding workers.”
For Laborers Local 423 member Sara McEnery-Guice, a CBA is a way to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion on the project.
She told the board that 87 percent of Ohio tradeswomen are currently enrolled in union construction registered apprenticeship programs.
“This is just one example of how union construction careers can create a robust middle-class foundation to ensure equal opportunities for those who may face barriers to employment in the industry,” said McEnery-Guice. “This not only strengthens our communities but also fosters a more inclusive and resilient society.”
She noted that the neighborhoods around the airport are some of the most disadvantaged in Columbus, and a project of this magnitude should positively impact the entire region.
“Workers in these communities – specifically people of color, women, and women of color – are most at risk for contractor wage theft,” McEnery-Guice said. “They deserve a guarantee that they will be paid family-sustaining wages with benefits.”
Creating Central Ohio Futures CEO Leland Bass also addressed the board and explained the role CBAs play in putting members of the award-winning Building Futures Program to work.
He noted that over 300 men and women have graduated from the Building Futures Program, an Apprenticeship Readiness Program that helps members of underserved communities overcome career obstacles in order to begin a pathway to a middle-class life by working in the union construction industry.
“Without CBAs, this would not be possible,” said Bass.
Hager closed out his comments by stressing the importance of having a diversified and equal jobsite and reminded the board who had the final say on the CBA.
“The Columbus Building Trades and our community partners are not going to let Hensel Phelps use local minority contractors as props in an effort to deny workers industry-standard wages, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training, benefits like quality healthcare or mechanisms to enforce their rights on the job,” he said.
“Hensel Phelps works for the CRAA; the CRAA does not work for Hensel Phelps. The Columbus Building Trades and its member unions remain ready to work with you or Hensel Phelps to get it done, consistent with a long history of labor-management partnership in our city and county,” Hager added.
When the final speaker finished addressing the board, no member of the CRAA Board of Directors asked any questions or made any comments. They did not address the topic during the remainder of their meeting and did not make themselves available for comment.
After the meeting, Hager and over 50 members of organized labor waited outside the CRAA offices to speak with the Board of Directors, but the board members did not want to talk and walked past the group.
Nana Watson, Columbus NAACP President, attended the meeting but did not address the board. Afterward, she told WBNS-TV that CBAs have a track record of working in Franklin County.
“We have a Community Benefits Agreement on various projects in Franklin County,” she said. “We don’t understand why they’re resisting this.”
She also told WCMH-TV that she feels Hensel Phelps does not care about the community.
“I don’t believe they have a commitment to this community,” Watson said. “If you’re not from this community, you don’t have a commitment to it.”
Columbus City Councilman and Affiliated Construction Trades (ACT) Ohio Chief Legal Counsel Rob Dorans, Esq., told WCMH that he was disappointed no CBA was signed.
“Community Benefits Agreements have been utilized by the city, by the county repeatedly with great success not only for workers but for minority contractors and others, and it is really just disappointing to see the contractor here in this case, break off negotiations,” he added.
The Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council strongly urges CRAA President and CEO Joseph R. Nardone and the entire Board of Directors to enter into a Community Benefits Agreement with the C/COBCTC to ensure all workers are treated fairly on the jobsite and make sure no worker is defrauded of their wages by not being paid Prevailing Wage.