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Split Supreme Court Tosses Cleveland's Fannie Lewis Law

[Daniel Konik / Statehouse News Bureau]

A split Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a Cleveland home-rule law on hiring construction workers, known as the Fannie Lewis Law.

The city ordinance requires contractors working on projects that receive more than $100,000 in city funds to hire city residents for at least 20 percent of the “construction worker hours” or cut the project’s price by 2.5 percent. Contractors are fined if it is discovered after a project is complete that they failed to meet the hiring standard or falsified reports. Additional city ordinances allow Cleveland to terminate contracts or disqualify contractors from future bidding if they fail to meet the hiring standard.

Four justices agreed with state solicitor Ben Flowers,  who argued before them in March that the Republican-dominated state legislature was right to approve a law in 2016 that invalidated the Cleveland ordinance, passed by the Democratic Cleveland City Council in 2003.

Flowers pointed to  a ruling upholding a ban on cities from requiring employees to be residents, saying the state should protect a worker’s freedom to choose where to live.

But Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote that the state law violates  the home-rule provision in the Ohio Constitution. The court’s two Democrats, Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart, joined in that dissent.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said the law has worked well for Cleveland over the last ten years.

“On just the public sector side, not the private sector side, there was over $232 million that was paid to Cleveland workers as a result of this law,” Jackson said.

The law also led to greater opportunities for students and those seeking apprenticeships, he added.

“We worked with the building trades to create a pipeline where we now have the only state certified pre-apprenticeship program in a public school at Max Hayes [High School],” Jackson said.

Dave Wondolowski, executive secretary of the Cleveland building trades council, says the law has worked well for Cleveland and proven to be good public policy since it went into effect in 2004.

“We're going to continue to do business that way because that's our culture,” Wondolowski said. “We're going to continue to employ city residents, recruit city residents and our contractors are going to continue to hire them because they're skilled people and they deserve the work.”

The city of Cleveland plans to file for a reconsideration from the Ohio State Supreme Court, Jackson said.