March 2010

Political Action Spells ‘J-O-B-S' in Cleveland
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Cleveland's financial problems have never been quiet. From front page stories back in the late 1970s about the city's near plunge into bankruptcy to more recent coverage of the region's industrial decline, the city has been a symbol, an economic and political weather vane.

For Cleveland Local 38, national and local politics is not someone else's game. It's an essential ingredient in determining who works and who ends up jobless. With 300 out of 1,800 local members out of work, the local is stepping up its game.

Winning Referendum on Casino Gambling

Last year, after word went out that an amendment to the state's constitution to permit casino gambling was going to be put to a referendum, Business Agent Dennis Meaney and other trade union leaders took a giant leap into the political process. Casinos mean construction and service jobs. And taxes on jackpots could support still more economic development.

So Meaney and members of the building and construction trades contacted Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans and a friend of organized labor, to design a plan for winning a referendum in favor of casino gambling. Gilbert agreed to finance the project and guarantee union involvement in all phases of casino construction.

Local 38 promoted the referendum at union meetings, leafleted job sites, held rallies and encouraged members and their neighbors to put up lawn signs.

Those efforts paid off last November when Ohio citizens voted 53 percent to 47 percent in favor of changing the constitution. A temporary casino is being designed for downtown Cleveland. A permanent casino is planned for a site on the Cuyahoga River.

Development Revives Cuyahoga's East Bank

The job-creating potential of the casino project is richly supplemented by a major development on the Cuyahoga's east bank to be built by union labor.

The $300 million Flats East Bank project will be located near the future casino and include an office building, recreation center, retail businesses and a parking garage.

Anchored by the international financial firm Ernst and Young, the Flats' office tower will be joined to a hotel that is expected to stay booked with visitors in town for short and long-term meetings at Ernst and Young and Tucker Ellis and West, a law firm. Construction is expected to begin in May.

Grassroots Politics Key to School Construction Contracts

Local 38's success in Cleveland has helped push forward pro-labor politics and the creation of good jobs in neighboring Euclid.

Six years ago, Euclid's school board proposed a levy to provide for more school construction. The school board at first refused to consider a project labor agreement, relying upon a 1997 measure passed by the Republican-dominated state legislature that eliminated requiring such agreements on school construction.

The building trades and other trade unionists agreed to campaign in support of the school levy if the municipality dropped its resistance to a PLA. The measure passed, with the building trades picking up the work.

Last November, another school levy was proposed. Once again, the building trades promised support under the condition that the school board agree to a PLA.

"We got our people energized," says Meaney. Like in Cleveland, yard signs were posted around town. Local members conducted volunteer phone banking and a letter-writing campaign from the union hall. The school levy passed by only 71 votes. The measure provides $65 million for new school construction, 10 percent of which will be electrical work performed by Local 38 members.

Another school construction PLA was successfully negotiated with neighboring Berea last year.

"If we weren't out there and active in politics, we wouldn't be securing these projects for our members," says Local 38 Business Manager J. Gilbert Steele Jr. "We need to elect labor-friendly candidates for school boards and other offices or we will lose work to nonunion contractors who are coming in from all over the country, taking away local jobs and taking dollars out of our communities."

Members of Cleveland, Ohio, Local 38 listen to Cleveland Cavalier's owner Dan Gilbert pledge to build casinos with union labor, in anticipation of the campaign last fall to win a constitutional amendment to permit casino gambling.