Ohio Laborers reps, commissioners discuss job opportunities at solar sites
Pictured, from left, are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Terry Britton, David Daniels and Brad Roades met with representatives of the Ohio Laborers’ District Council during their Wednesday, May 31 meeting, as the union representatives advocated for recruiting local residents to work on upcoming solar projects in the area.
Marketing director Randy McGuire and apprentice coordinator Joe Coleman attended Wednesday’s commission meeting. According to the Ohio Laborers’ District Council website (https://www.ohldc.com), their “mission is to work collectively with our signatory contractors and our Union affiliates in the ongoing efforts of providing the best trained, experienced and most reliable workforce possible. We are committed to providing the Laborers needed to build a better tomorrow. We stand for a fair day’s work, fair wages, fringe benefits and retirement security for all workers.”
McGuire had previously met with commissioners in March, where he spoke about “tons of issues” with the work being done at the non-union solar sites compared to projects using union workers. He addressed those concerns again Wednesday but said that he also wanted to make commissioners aware that the Palomino Solar and Dodson Creek Solar projects, both approved for Highland County, will be employing union contractors.
As previously reported, Dodson Creek, developed by National Grid Renewables, is expected to be an up to 117 megawatt (MW) solar development spanning approximately 1,429 acres in Dodson and Hamer townships. It was approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board in September 2022.
In an 8-1 vote (with Dodson Township Trustee Ty Smith dissenting), members of the Ohio Power Siting Board and two local ad hoc board members voted April 20 to issue a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need for the construction of the Palomino Solar project in Dodson and Union Townships. The 200 MW project being developed by Innergex is anticipated to “be located across 2,700 acres of private land, with an anticipated area to be impacted of 1,410 acres,” according to Public Utilities Commission of Ohio documents.
“What we ask for you guys to do, for any future solar sites that come in, is just take notice of these two being built — the way they're being built, how they're being built, how they're being manned, how they're safely being taken care of,” McGuire told commissioners.
As was brought out by the Laborers’ Council at their meeting with commissioners in March, the union has heard reports of developers allegedly “cheating” by having multiple workers on site with the same temporary Ohio address, or having residents on site but not working, to fulfill the residency requirements. By working with the union, McGuire said these projects are more likely to be using workers from the local area or across Ohio, while the union is also ready to train anyone interested in working.
“We will come in and we will train your local people who need jobs,” McGuire said. “We have a mobile solar training class, where we will come down. It’s a three-day course, and we will teach them everything they need to know about building a solar site. Then we will put your community people to work, in your community.”
McGuire added that individuals working to build these solar projects can make $35 an hour, plus benefits, and will be placed at another site when they are done in Highland County.
“If you need jobs, get in contact with me,” McGuire told commissioners. “We'll put your people to work — your voters, your community people.”
McGuire added that they have had multiple training sessions recently or new ones scheduled, including ones with women and with individuals “who have never been laborers before” to get workers prepared, and trainees can find immediate job placement around the state.
“When this job is over, they will go to another job,” he said. “It may not be solar, but there'll be another Laborers’ job.”
Daniels asked how individuals can get started on training and “how soon before the project starts do you start staffing.” McGuire said that for most laborer jobs, people “won’t know where” they are placed in advance, but the solar sites have been an exception because the union is “trying to get ahead of that because solar came fast.
“That’s why we’re out in front of the ones that haven’t started yet,” McGuire said. “We dropped the ball [on the earliest projects], but now we’re out ahead of it, because there’s still 22 pending and 18 under construction right now.
“I want you guys to get the credit for this, that the commissioners brought us in, we put on the classes and we put people to work. That's what we're after, and then obviously in the end, we get the work.”
McGuire later said that for example, if commissioners called with 15 people wanting to train, they could have a class scheduled “the next week.”
Roades asked if there have been many Highland County workers on the Laborers’ solar projects in Ohio.
“The majority of the Ohio workers are from Scioto County right now,” McGuire said. “But at the same time, there's just not a lot of laborers in Highland County, and we would like to change that and put them to work.”
In addition to getting local workers well-paying jobs, Coleman said “the biggest thing is keeping the tax dollars right here in your own community” instead of outside the state, as has been the case with workers on non-union projects.
“You’re under Laborers’ Local 83’s jurisdiction in this area, and if [a company] needed 50 people, and we only had 20, we’d get the 30 from somewhere else,” McGuire said. “But at the same time, why don't we just train people, because this [solar] isn't going away.”
Commissioners thanked them for the update.
In other discussion:
• An area resident attended the meeting for a second straight week, sharing the same concerns. As previously reported, the resident told commissioners at their May 24 meeting that the Highland County Sheriff’s Office would not permit her to file criminal charges against an individual she alleged “exploited money” from her. In addition, the resident expressed concerns “this county does not have an animal humane warden” and that there is “a definite need” for the position.
The resident said that she had not heard back from commissioners in the past week.
“We did contact the sheriff's office,” Britton told her. “We also contacted our prosecuting attorney, who gives us our legal advice, and she has told us that this is a civil matter, and that you need to take this to a civil court.”
The resident said she had also spoken with Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins and “she’s wrong.”
“She’s the one that makes those decisions in Highland County, and the sheriff's the one that makes those decisions, so we can't help you,” Daniels said.
Regarding the humane officer position, commissioners told the resident for a second straight week that this is also not their “jurisdiction.”
“It’s up to the Humane Society,” Daniels said. “You have to talk to them.
“We contribute a very small amount of money to the hiring of a humane agent.”
“That’s not our jurisdiction,” Britton added. “They have a board. That’s who you have to deal with.”
• At 9:24 a.m., commissioners voted 3-0 to enter an executive session to discuss employee compensation.
Commissioners also made the following approvals:
• Commissioners agreed via resolution to update the plan for “Residential Anti-Displacement and Relocation Assistance” and provide relocation assistance to each LMI household displaced by housing demolition or conversion of a LMI dwelling to another use as a direct result of assisted activities.
“This is for us to be compliant with CDBG and housing,” Daniels said. “It's part of the federal program. We're supposed to update this every five years, and it allows us to apply for our Critical Infrastructure grants and other things that deal with housing issues.”
• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds to unemployment compensation – County Miscellaneous in the amount of $10,000.
• A request from Probation for a budget modification within the 2675 Jail Diversion FY14 account from OPERS to Program Expenses in the amount of $7,140.
• A request from Probation for a budget modification within the 2685 Pre-Trial Supervision FY22 account in the amount of $7,350.
• A request from Probation for a budget modification within the 2690 PSI Writing Program FY22 account in the amount of $3,860.
• The commission also voted 3-0 to authorize the execution of a building permit application through the City of Hillsboro for the Highland County Probation Office, following a fire inspection of their building, to comply with building codes.