YOUNGSTOWN Pastor calls union picketing unfair

YOUNGSTOWN -- Union members picketed the site of a $3.5 million construction project at New Bethel Baptist Church Tuesday and Wednesday over the use of a nonunion contractor.
The Rev. Kenneth L. Simon, pastor of the congregation, which numbers more than 1,100, said the protest by Structural Iron Workers Local 207 is unfairly targeting the church and is based on "false and erroneous allegations."
So far, the Rev. Mr. Simon said, five of the six contractors signed for the South Side church expansion project are unionized and two of the six are minority contractors.
"I'm appalled that an outsider with no vested interest in the inner city would come to an inner city black church, a house of God, and disrespect its sacred grounds with its picket signs and protests," he said.
No chance to bid
But Rick Ellis, president and assistant business agent for Local 207, said unionized iron work companies never got a chance to bid on the project.
Ellis said he's asking the church to insist that the contractor on the job now, C. Tucker Corp. of Columbiana, hire some minority workers from the Iron Workers union for the project. He said Local 207 has five minority apprentices and 10 journeymen.
"We've got minorities at our union hall who are off work. I'm telling the church to put them to work," he said. "That way we'd be happy and the church would be happy. If they'll do that, we'll go away."
Ellis said that the union took a day off from the informational picketing today but that members plan to return tomorrow and to continue indefinitely.
An understanding
Mr. Simon said New Bethel has a memorandum of understanding with its general contractor, Cogun Industries of North Lima, stressing the need to hire minority contractors first, and union contractors whenever possible.
"Minorities have been locked out of these types of jobs and construction projects forever," he said, "but we have the opportunity to include them in our church project."
New Bethel has a "firm price agreement," which gives the general contractor the right to choose its subcontractors, Mr. Simon said, arguing that the union should be targeting its pickets at Cogun, not at the church and its leadership.
He said Cogun Industries completed other large church expansion projects in the region over the past few years, including projects in Canfield, Youngstown and Warren, and there were no union protests.
Ellis said he was elected president of the local in June. "I can't answer for what happened before that," he said, "but there's another church project coming up in New Waterford in Columbiana County. We'll be there too, if we have to."

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