Cleveland, Ohio (January 2, 2003) — In an unprecedented decision, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the state’s Open Contracting Act, a state law that bans government-mandated union-only contracts, or project labor agreements (PLAs), on government construction projects.
In the case of Ohio State Building & Construction Trades Council v. Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners, the elected judges threw out the Open Contracting Act, saying that the Ohio legislature’s effort to protect non-union employees from discrimination is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation urges Ohio’s new attorney general to appeal the court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation participated as an amicus curiae in support of the Open Contracting Act. Foundation attorneys argued that the state legislature had the right not to finance with public construction funds a form of compulsory unionism. Ohio’s intermediate appellate court had used the Foundation’s arguments to uphold the law in its now reversed ruling. Foundation attorneys plan to file a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners, if the Ohio attorney general appeals.
“The Ohio Supreme Court has gone out on a limb in order to put the power of union bosses ahead of Ohio’s workers and taxpayers,” said Foundation Vice President Stefan Gleason. “PLAs are nothing more than a shakedown — union officials use them to demand taxpayer handouts and government-granted special privileges in exchange for not ordering strikes or causing other disruptions.”
A PLA is a scheme that requires all contractors, whether they are unionized or not, to subject themselves and their employees to unionization in order to work on government-funded construction projects. PLAs usually require contractors to grant union officials monopoly bargaining privileges over all workers; use exclusive union hiring halls; force workers to pay dues as a condition of employment; and pay above-market prices resulting from wasteful work rules and featherbedding.
After the Ohio legislature passed the Open Contacting Act in 1999, union lawyers sued the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners to retain forced unionism on all state construction projects. In October 1999, a trial court permanently enjoined enforcement of the law. An Ohio appellate court later reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling that the NLRA does not prohibit states from banning government-mandated discriminatory, union-only PLAs, on government construction projects.