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Union protestors disrupt groundbreaking for Euclid lakefront trail

September 7, 2018

Union protestors disrupt groundbreaking for Euclid lakefront trail

EUCLID, Ohio – More than 100 labor union demonstrators disrupted the ceremonial groundbreaking for the newest stage of the city’s waterfront improvement project Thursday.

Shouting “Union first,” and “we voted you in, we’ll vote you out,” members of Laborers Local 860 caused Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail to depart from prepared remarks at the event, held on the fishing pier at Sims Park.

“We’re not going to be able to do a program if you all won’t let me speak,” she said, raising her voice to be heard over jeers. “I appreciate the presence of the union and we’ll be happy to meet with you and talk about our projects.”

Euclid’s new $8.9 million project, for which it has raised $7.2 million, is the second phase of an estimated $30 million waterfront plan.

The trail, which has attracted national attention, is considered innovative because the city is rebuilding ¾ of a mile of shoreline to control erosion in exchange for easements allowing public access across private lakefront residential lots.

The city ultimately plans to build a marina at the eastern end of the trail, north of Lakeshore Boulevard at East 248th Street.

Prior to the demonstration, Anthony Liberatore Jr., business manager and secretary-treasurer of the local, said the union objected to Euclid’s selection of Mark Haynes Construction of Norwalk, in Huron County, as the general contractor for the project.

“You’re bringing in out-of-towners here in a community that is fully capable of performing this work,” he said.

Norman Edwards, executive director of the Black Contractors Group, which had about 20-plus members at the ceremony, said his organization also objects to the selection of Haynes.

He said the firm “has a history of not hiring African-Americans.” Why would you hire them in a city with 65 percent African Americans? Euclid’s population of 47,201 was 59.5 percent black and 37.3 percent white in 2017, according to the U.S. census.

In remarks during a private reception at Henn Mansion at Sims Park before the ceremony, and during the event, Gail said that Haynes was the lowest bidder on the lakefront project by $1 million, and that the firm adheres to state equal employment opportunity regulations.

She also said that Haynes would pay prevailing wages on the lakefront project and that all subcontractors would be union members.

The shouting laborers made it difficult at times to hear Gail and other speakers at the event, which drew an audience of roughly 50, whose members sat on folding chairs under the fishing pier canopy.

Wearing bright yellow T-shirts, the union members packed the landward side of the pier, bottling it up like a cork.

On a hill just to the south of the pier, they had placed a large inflatable gray rat, roughly 15 feet tall, with bright red eyes and a sign saying “Haynes Construction” on its chest.

Overhead, a single engine plane circled the site, trailing a banner that said “Union Yes!!”

After posing for a photo with city officials holding shovels on the pier, Gail said she had first heard complaints about the project from Local 860 on Tuesday, and from the black contractors group on Wednesday.

“I would have much preferred that we were able to have a conversation about this prior to a protest,” she said.

Roy Larick, an archaeologist and activist whose Bluestone Heights organization conducts ecological tours in Euclid and surrounding communities, said the protest didn’t mar the day.

His objection, he said, was that the city had taken too long to start the lakefront trail project after decades of discussion.

“There have been so many obstacles,” he said. “This,” he said, referring to the union demonstration, “it’s not an obstacle, let’s say. It’s a protest, it’s a small protest.”
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