The Electrical Worker online
December 2013

Ohio Activists Call on University to
Drop Questionable Contractor
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State building trades activists and safety advocates are calling on Ohio University to take a closer look at its choice of electrical contractor, citing its numerous safety citations and a checkered workers' rights record.

GC Turner Construction, Athens-based Ohio University's main contractor, hired Claypool Electric as part of a major expansion and renovation project last summer. But the Affiliated Construction Trades, a construction safety watchdog group, has accused Claypool of numerous safety and wage violations over the years, including:

  • 10 citations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over the last 13 years; seven are classified by OSHA as "serious."

  • The Ohio Department of Commerce has investigated Claypool four times over violations of state prevailing wage law, two times on the Ohio University project alone.

  • Claypool has been investigated by the National Labor Relations Board for violations of workers' rights on nine occasions.

Last spring, three former employees were awarded back pay for overtime work after the IBEW brought unfair labor practice charges against the company.

ACT Ohio set up an online petition and Web site — — to raise awareness about Claypool.

The campaign has received local media coverage.

"Quality contractors help insure work is completed to all regulations and safety standards, helping create a safe campus and a better learning environment," says ACT Ohio's petition.

Activists are also making phone calls asking residents throughout the Athens community to contact the university.

"We are trying to show OU's president that there is support for contractors that respect labor law and safe work practices," said Marietta Local 972 Business Development Coordinator Nick Dobbs.

IBEW activists throughout Ohio have been working to raise wages and working standards at Claypool since 2011. Nine IBEW locals came together to help organize the company after a group of workers reached out to the union.

"There were employees who were interested in being represented by the IBEW," said Dobbs. He says their complaints ranged from delayed raises to disrespectful managers. "There was a lot of unrest."

After the company — whose work force averages 150 employees — expanded into Athens, workers set up a volunteer organizing committee.

To help workers get the back pay they were owed, all nine locals contributed to a group legal fund to bring the issue before the NLRB.

Members of the VOC petitioned for an election last summer, but as soon as they did, management began harassing pro-union workers, and holding mandatory captive audience meetings.

"We were doing very well with card signing, but then Claypool brought in an anti-union law firm," said Fourth District State Organizing Coordinator Bert McDermitt Jr. "They started up with the scare tactics."

The company's heavy hand convinced enough employees to change their mind about signing cards.

Despite the setback, Local 972 Business Manager Troy Ferrell said the IBEW will continue to fight for Claypool workers and help raise safety standards and working conditions for all Ohio electricians.

More than a dozen employees left the company to work for IBEW signatory contractors, including Local 972 member Lee Whitlach. Whitlach worked for Claypool from 2010 to 2012 before joining the IBEW.

"Claypool paid us nothing," he said. "Now that I've joined the IBEW, I like the work, I like the pay and benefits."

His comments are echoed by another former Claypool employee, Charlie Cox. "I like the money and benefits, but what I really like is that our rights are respected and the fact that we have someone to turn to if there's ever a problem," said the new Huntington, W.Va., Local 317 member.

McDermitt says the IBEW will continue to fight for Claypool workers. "We knew it would be difficult, but we're going to continue to speak out against unfair labor practices and not let Claypool drive standards down in the electrical industry."


Activists are calling on Ohio University to drop Claypool Electric, a contractor with a record of wage and safety violations.