Some members of City Council during a special joint committee meeting Nov. 1 agreed that the city needs to take a hard look at the way it inspects projects done with taxpayer money, but they took no action other than discussing allegations that workers were being underpaid at the University Square development in Clifton.
Council members Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young presented a video investigation they conducted, which included interviews with workers on the project who claim they were being taken advantage of by the University Square developers.
Under Ohio and Cincinnati law, workers on projects funded by taxpayers must be paid a so-called “prevailing wage” (the same as a unionized worker) and be given benefits.
In Cincinnati, that wage is $23.17 an hour for carpentry work. The workers in the video claimed they were paid $500 for working a 60-hour week.
The University Square developer — a collaboration between Towne Properties and Al. Neyer, Inc. — is building a complex with a parking garage, residential and retail units.
The City of Cincinnati has $21 million invested in the parking garage. The state of Ohio recently ruled that the prevailing wage provisions apply only to workers constructing the garage that the city has money invested in.
Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said the controversy was ginned up by unions and it isn’t proven that workers are being underpaid.
He said the unions are upset with the state’s ruling and are trying to discredit developers.
Bortz said he agreed to pay a prevailing wage even to workers working on parts of the project not subject to the law. He said he cuts checks to subcontractors based on that.
“Whether any of those subcontractors might have been unfair to the workers, we do not know,” Bortz says. “If they were, they should be made to be fair.”