(CN) — A new Ohio law that will keep Cleveland from employing locals to construct public improvement projects infringes the city’s constitutional rights, it claims in court.
Cleveland sued Ohio in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Tuesday.
The background for the dispute goes back to 2003, then the city passed the Fannie M. Lewis Cleveland Resident Employment Law to address the local community’s chronic unemployment and poverty rates.
The law states that “Cleveland has a higher unemployment rate and higher poverty rate than Cuyahoga County and many surrounding communities,” according to the city’s complaint.
Yet “few opportunities arising from [projects recently completed or currently under construction] have gone to Cleveland residents,” though many possess the necessary skills and training,” the law says.
The city council found that “the employment of city residents on construction projects funded, in part or in whole, with city assistance will help alleviate unemployment and poverty in the city.”
Both Hard Hatted Women Ohio and the state’s Construction Employers Association support the law, which helps recruit “a diverse, Cleveland-based workforce for local projects,” according to the latter’s CEO, Tim Linville.
But Ohio effected upended the law and its goals by passing House Bill 180 in May, the lawsuit says.
It seeks to “preempt the city’s exercise of well-established local self-government authority to establish the terms of contracts for public improvements,” Cleveland claims.
Revised Code Sec. 9.49 will block municipalities from requiring contractors to employ a certain amount of “individuals who reside within the defined geographic area or service area of the public authority” as laborers on public improvement projects, the complaint says.
The city argues the law, which is slated to go into effect on Aug. 31, will violate the Home Rule amendment to the state constitution, which “gives municipalities the “broadest possible powers of self-government” in all “strictly local” — i.e. not state-wide — matters.
The law “abolishes a pathway out of poverty for many low-income Cleveland residents,” the city said in a statement.
“There are billions of dollars of development happening in our city; yet special interests in Columbus are attempting to prohibit our residents from seeing a financial impact from that development,” Cleveland’s Mayor Frank Jackson said in the statement.
Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland said “We support the city’s action against the state.”
Cleveland claims “the General Assembly sought to justify its unconstitutional attempt to preempt well-established municipal Home Rule authority by invoking the authority of Section 34 of Article II of the Ohio Constitution,” which allows the regulation of labor.
Yet the new law “does not fix and regulate hours of labor, does not establish a minimum wage, and does not provide for the comfort, health, safety and general welfare of all employees in Ohio” — i.e. any of the actions protected by Section 34, the Cleveland says.
“In seeking to preempt and restrict the city from requiring that 20 percent of the total construction worker hours under a construction contract with the city be performed by local residents, the state unconstitutionally interferes with the city’s exercise of local self-government powers granted to it by the Home Rule amendment,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint also alleges violations of Cleveland’s police powers, and seeks a declaratory judgment, a temporary restraining order, and injunctive relief.
The city is represented by Gary Singletary in its Law Department.
The city did not respond to a request for comment.
Nor did the Cleveland Building & Construction Trades Council, whose Committee to Protect Local Jobs says a Cleveland State University (CSU) project — reportedly the city’s largest residential development in the past 30 years — is giving jobs to out-of-towners.
University spokesman William Dube said “The suit does not involve CSU so the university is not able to comment.”
The Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, which reportedly picketed the construction site in 2012, did not respond to a request for comment.