Lorain Labor Council Candidates Win Local Elections

Ohioans Elect Two Dozen City Councilors on Independent Labor Ticket

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After one too many sell-outs by the local Democratic Party, the Lorain County central labor council decided to draw “a line in the sand” and run their own city council candidates on an Independent Labor Party ticket. Two dozen won seats—including union teacher Joshua Thornsberry, shown canvassing with his young son, who beat the head of the local Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Joshua Thornsberry.

Union-dense Lorain County, Ohio, is now home to an independent labor slate of two dozen newly elected city councilors—recruited and run by the central labor council there. All labor’s candidates had strong showings last month, and all but two were elected.

“This was a step we took reluctantly,” said Lorain County AFL-CIO President Harry Williamson. “When the leaders of the [Democratic] Party just took us for granted and tried to roll over the rights of working people here, we had to stand up.”

A series of disputes between organized labor and the Democratic leadership led the labor council and its allies to recruit and run their own slate in this Democratic stronghold, home of Ohio’s largest steel and auto facilities.

‘The Final Straw’

The unions had worked for years to build a labor-community partnership that resulted in a Lorain city Project Labor Agreement (PLA), which required that city contracts be staffed by at least 75 percent local and 9 percent minority workers, and unionized during the period of the project.

But Mayor Chase Ritenauer pushed the city council to repeal it in May 2013—just two months after its passage.

“It took us three years to negotiate this historic agreement,” said Joe Thayer, marketing director of the Sheet Metal Workers Union, “and it took them three days to kill it!”

The city council voted 8-2 in favor of the repeal. It was reported that an estimated $29.6 million in city road and water projects were soon to be awarded.

“Before we had the PLA, Lorain regularly hired contractors from outside the city and county,” said Rick Lucente, councilman and Steelworkers member, who voted no on repeal. “Repealing the PLA is taking work away from people here and revenue away from our city.”

The next big fight was over a contract dispute involving the Teamsters and the city. Mayor Ritenauer, with some of the council members, borrowed city trucks from nearby Elyria—another Democratic stronghold—and actually worked on the trucks to try to break the sanitation workers’ strike.

“That was the final straw,” according to Williamson. “You just plain do not cross a picket line and scab! There has to be a line in the sand.”

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