Friday, May 1, 2020

Ohio 2020 Economic Recovery Task Force

Testimony of Michael Knisley

Executive Secretary-Treasurer

Ohio State Building & Construction Trades Council

Thank you, Chairman Zeltwanger, Speaker Householder, and the members of this task force for your work setting Ohio on the path towards economic recovery.

I’m Mike Knisley, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council. Before I begin, I want to take a moment to express our gratitude to:

  • Mike DeWine for his leadership;
  • to Lt. Gov. Husted and the entire staff of Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, under the direction of Kimberly Hall, for supporting working Ohio families and employers helping them with unemployment issues during this crisis;
  • and to Dr. Amy Acton, and all of our state and local health department workers and frontline caregivers for protecting Ohioans from COVID-19.

The Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council represents nearly 100,000 Building Tradespeople who work in the union construction industry —men and women who put a hard hat on every day and go to work in Ohio’s 88 counties. Our members are construction workers from 145 Building Trades unions across 12 trades.

Earlier this week, our industry commemorated International Workers’ Memorial Day in honor of the Tradespeople who have lost their lives on the jobsite. We know that the loss of even one worker is too many. The Ohio Building Trades lead our industry in safety on major construction projects — now more than ever, it is vital that we improve the safety of our essential construction workers. And it is essential that Ohio’s Building Tradespeople have a voice as we safely reopen Ohio’s economy.

Construction represents 3.7% of Ohio’s GDP, and employs 3.8% of Ohio’s workforce. Across our industry, unions and the contractors who employ union tradespeople have partnered to protect workers from coronavirus infection.

 I believe Ohio’s Building Trades provide a model for other industries to safely reopen while protecting Ohioans.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Ohio’s Regional Building Trades Councils, local unions and construction contractors have worked in close cooperation. Together, our industry is:

  1. Implementing new infectious-disease-control protocols to protect essential Tradespeople on jobsites;
  2. We are ensuring unemployment compensation and a safe return to work for Tradespeople who have been furloughed; and
  3. We are advancing the economic conditions that will allow Ohio’s safest, best-trained tradespeople to continue building and maintaining our hospitals, roadways, utilities, power facilities, and critical infrastructure projects.

Today, 70% of Ohio’s Building Tradespeople are still safely working – earning full healthcare benefits and middle-class prevailing wages. I want to share with you now a few construction projects underway across the state, and examples of the ways in which contractors and unions are partnering to protect Ohioans:

  • The Long Ridge Energy Generation Project in Hannibal, Ohio. According to the Parkersburg-Marietta Building Trades, Kiewit Power Constructors have taken meaningful actions to prevent issues with COVID-19 and the project has progressed through the pandemic. Those actions include
  • providing ample, safe facilities for workers;
  • maintaining open communications between contractors, workers, and local unions; and
  • ensuring these protocols are maintained by subcontractors that are on the site.
  • The Lima Memorial Hospital project in my hometown of Lima, Ohio, continues under Smith-Boughan, a mechanical contractor that has worked through the pandemic to provide workers with all necessary PPE to keep this project on schedule to ensure a timely opening.
  • In Akron, Ohio, construction of a 700,000-square-foot Amazon Distribution Center continues uninterrupted. The Tri-County Building & Construction Trades Council reports that Contractor Whiting Turner has worked to solidify safety for the workers on that jobsite.
  • In Cleveland, Ohio, the $132 million Lumen Project in Playhouse Square continues, despite an early positive COVID-19 case in mid-March. Since that time, labor and management have worked closely to assure that all of the safety protocols were in place, according to the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council.

And finally,

  • The Cincinnati Building Trade recognizes contractor Jess Hauer Masonry for being proactive in their response to COVID-19. Their efforts include supplying safety packets to employees with thermometers, and providing masks and face shields.

Ohio has 23,076 construction firms, 91% of which classify as small businesses. As a result of COVID-19, funding constraints and new project cancellations threaten the viability of some of our construction contractors and their workers’ livelihoods.

During this recovery, we urge expanded federal and state infrastructure investment, and continued private-public investment, to continue providing the safe, middle class construction jobs that are vital to Ohio’s economy.

The Ohio Building Trades have set the standard for maintaining safety while continuing the essential construction work that keeps our local and state economies moving. We stand ready to help our great state recover safely and prosper. Thank you for your time, I welcome any questions you might have.