LIMA — Mike Knisely is a plumber/pipefitter by trade and presently serves as the business manager for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 776 of Lima. He is also the president of both the Lima Building Trades Council and the Ohio State Building Trades Council.
As one might gather, Knisely is a union man from the tip of his steel-toed toes to the top of his hard hat.
In his capacity as president of the Lima Building Trades Council, Knisely coordinates training and job opportunities for some 2,500 members who are part of 14 union trades in Northwest and West Central Ohio. Eighty percent of members work within a 20-mile radius of Lima.
“We’re a labor broker,” Knisely said of the council. “We provide manpower to contractors, and, in partnership with the private sector, we provide apprenticeship programs for all our trade groups. That job training is managed and funded jointly by contractors and the labor council; not a single dollar of tax money is used.”
Knisely conceded that organized labor has in recent years been a frequent target of political types who seek to undermine what has traditionally been seen as an important cog in the Democratic party. But Knisely is undeterred and remains optimistic about the future of labor unions.
“Organized labor is an easy target; it’s easy to blame unions for the woes of the economy,” Knisely said. “But it’s management that ultimately calls the shots, while organized labor puts in the sweat, toil and long hours.
“Unions still have a role. There has to be a series of checks and balances.”
The trades council president cited the decision by Dominion Energy Ohio to construct a new office complex in downtown Lima as evidence of the highly-skilled trade labor that is available locally.
“Dominion could have chosen to go anywhere, but they chose to use the local building trades and kept all that money in the community,” said Knisely. He said dozens of tradesmen and women have been busy at the site, which will open later this year.
Knisely said there is increasing pressure to produce skilled labor in the local workforce, “and we don’t do well enough in explaining that to the public.”
He said $125 million in wages are pumped into the local economy annually from union workers, with an additional $70 million in health and retirement benefits contributing to the local economy.
Knisely said area career compacts serve as a feeder system in supplying apprentices needed by the labor council.
Members represented by the local council include asbestos workers, boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, cement workers, electricians, iron workers, millwrights, painters and drywallers, sheet metal workers, roofers and plumbers and other assorted trades.