Representatives from six stakeholder groups spoke Tuesday in support of a bill that would ban residency requirements for construction and engineering projects.
Others submitted written testimony before the House Commerce and Labor Committee relaying opposition to the practice, which one speaker likened to “discrimination by Zip Code” that the bill (HB 180) seeks to outlaw.
“Employee residency mandates imposed by public entities limit the mobility of the construction workforce and discriminate against those tradespeople living in the wrong zip code or just outside the city limits,” said Andrea Ashley, vice president of government relations for the Associated General Contractors of Ohio. “Ohio residents should have the right to live and work where they choose and residency requirements infringe on that right by placing barriers around a city.”
One after another the witnesses argued that enacting such restrictions can harm local workers and result in an advantage for out-of-state companies who legally cannot be bound by those in-state ordinances.
One driver behind those ordinances is the idea that communities will see an economic benefit if the workers originate within that community. But Greg Stewart, CEO of Superior Electric Group, said in written testimony that communities will see an economic benefit from workers on a project for more than 20 days regardless of where they live.
“Finally, the restrictions are unfair to the workers themselves,” he said. “As this state struggles with unemployment and underemployment, it is astonishing to me that any government entity would construct barriers to employment as opposed to pathways to employment.”
The practice can also hamper recruiting efforts, said Don Mader, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Ohio. Unlike construction companies, engineering firms compete for work based on professional qualifications rather than low bids, he said.
Such measures would make it challenging for firms to recruit outside talent, he said, and could “do real, long-term economic damage to Ohio’s construction and design industries.”
“So as an engineering firm manager, I not only have to make sure 30% of my office staff lives in the city, I’ve somehow got to make sure that two-thirds of the hours worked on any given project are performed by city income taxpayers,” he said. “I have been associated with this industry for nearly 35 years and I’d like for someone to explain to me how – on any engineering project – one might reasonably manage this.”
A chief concern among those that have testified in support of the bill is that residency restrictions shackle in-state businesses and give out of state workers an unfair advantage.
Rep. Mike Duffy (R-Worthington) asked Mr. Mader, “How common is it for out of state workers to work on construction projects in Ohio?”
“In the engineering industry it’s very common,” Mr. Mader replied.
The same is true on the construction side, said Mark Totman, legislative director for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18.
“We cover two states basically,” Mr. Totman said. “You could have a crew of people from Kentucky that could come to Cincinnati and work on this project without having to meet the requirements. If I were large enough and I had crews in two, three states, if there’s not work here they’re willing to mobilize to keep their business running.”
Rep. Ron Hood (R-Ashville) asked Mr. Totman how burdensome the new law would be on his association’s operations.
Mr. Totman responded by asking him to imagine how much added time it would take to screen each potential worker based on their place of residence each time a contractor calls looking for employees.
“It’s very burdensome,” Mr. Totman replied. “It would slow down our process of us putting people to work, slow down the process of doing jobs. It would definitely impact our business.”
Also testifying in support of the bill were representatives from the Ohio Contractors Association, Mechanical Contractors Association of Ohio, Allied Construction Industries, Associated Builders and Contractors, the Transportation Advocacy Group of Northwest Ohio and the Ohio Aggregates & Industrial Minerals Association.