October 7, 2019 at 3:09 pm

Notable Alumni | Rob Dorans Pursues Passion for Living Wages, Affordable Housing

Graphic for College of Arts & Sciences Notable Alumni Award

Editor’s Note: The College of Arts & Sciences Notable Alumni Awards honor alumni for broad career accomplishments, commitment to community service, and valuable contributions to Ohio University and the College of Arts & Sciences.

Rob Dorans ’08 Political Science

Rob Dorans is the Chief Legal Counsel at ACT Ohio, representing 134 affiliate unions and 14 regional building trades councils, and he was appointed in February 2019 to fill a term on the Columbus City Council.

Rob Dorans sworn in at Columbus City Council

Rob Dorans is sworn in at Columbus City Council.

“I think when you look at the growth our city has had in the past decade, that growth has been fantastic for a lot of people, but it’s created a lot of challenges, whether it’s affordable housing or living-wage jobs,” Dorans told the Columbus Dispatch after his appointment. “I think that this council and this administration has done a great job on focusing on what those challenges are, and that really drew me to wanting to be a part of that.”

“Well, I think right now if you’re looking at a city that has had the growth that Columbus has had over the past several decades, my wife and I are sort of prime examples for that growth. She came for grad school, I came for work, and the city has changed over the past two decades. Unfortunately, that growth hasn’t been shared with everybody. When you look at it, two out of every three families in the Columbus metro area make less than $50,000. That’s a real problem, and we’ve seen wages stagnate not only in Columbus but across the country. And as a labor lawyer that’s certainly an area that I really believe in and have a lot of expertise in and want to bring that experience to the city,” he told the Columbus Underground.

But Dorans recently crafted an agreement between the city and the trades that is making a big dent in that problem.

Rob Dorans, portrait

Rob Dorans

“In 2017 I was the chief author of a community benefit agreement (CBA) between the City of Columbus and the Columbus Building Trades Council. This CBA agreement has put hundreds of local union skilled trades people to work and has helped create a pathway for underrepresented individuals into a building trades career with pays a living wage, provides healthcare and retirement benefits. This agreement so far has been utilized on two separate projects totally nearly $50 million in value here in Columbus and has been used as a template in other cities in Ohio.

“This CBA if the first time that the City of Columbus has ever used its construction projects as a tool for workforce development and poverty reduction,” he said.

Dorans, the first union member to serve on the Columbus City Council, traces his commitment to organized labor back to his birth, when his father was striking with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for health-care benefits. And he says his first steps in politics happened during the 2004 presidential election, with Dorans later becoming president of the Ohio University College Democrats and rallying a voter registration drive during the 2006 mid-term elections.

Dorans earned a B.A. in Political Science from the College of Arts & Sciences.

OHIO Memories

Rob Dorans with College Democrats at OHIO Homecoming parade

Rob Dorans with College Democrats at OHIO Homecoming parade

Finding a memory that perfectly encapsulates the best of fall in Athens, Dorans shares about his time at OHIO homecoming parade: “I always walked in the parade with the OU College Democrats and local candidates that were running for office. I can still vividly remember turning from Carpenter onto Court Street. It looked like the entire OU student body lined Court Street. Everyone was having a blast and enjoying the fruits of Court Street while rocking out to the Marching 110.”

Dorans says that attending OHIO has been the single most consequential decision of his life due to the influence of his professors. “First, I remember exactly where I was sitting in Dr. Kathleen Sullivan’s Constitutional Law class when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer someday. I was a first-generation college student, and things like law school seemed like something that kids with parents that were lawyers got to do.

“Absent that class and Dr. Sullivan, I’m not sure law school would have been something I would have ended up doing.”

The Dorans campaigning for Paul Wiehl

The Dorans campaigning for Paul Wiehl.

Commenting on the college town of Athens, OH, Dorans reflects on the town’s unique nature in relation to his career: “I’ve always been thankful for the college town nature of Athens. At times this could be somewhat limiting when it came to internships or career experiences. That said, OU and Athens is the kind of place where young folks are given the chance to take the reins of organizations at a much younger age than many place. At 22 years old I was managing a highly competitive state representatives race in Athens, because our community puts gives opportunity to young people to succeed. Most of my peers working on state rep campaigns in 2008 across Ohio were far more experienced and older, but I was fortunate to be given the opportunity. The experience managing that campaign has been the foundation for my entire career and network.”

Rob Dorans and Lauren Elliott-Dorans with their dog

Rob Dorans and Lauren Elliott-Dorans with their dog

On a personal level, Dorans shares about meeting the love of his life at OHIO: “I met a young women from Cincinnati at a College Democrats meeting at old Baker Center my sophomore year. For some reasons she took an interest in me, and by the end of college her and I were dating. This past May Dr. Lauren Elliott-Dorans and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. OU had an incredible impact on my career, but I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t decided to start showing up to College Dem meetings my sophomore year, after slacking off my freshman year, and met one of the smartest and funniest people on the planet.”

Rob Dorans and Lauren Elliott-Dorans outdoors

Rob Dorans and Lauren Elliott-Dorans

Helping OHIO Students

Dorans regularly returns to Athens to talk to students about careers and help the Center for Law, Justice & Culture.

Dorans took a non-traditional route to law school.

“I took some time off between graduating from OU and actually enrolling in the University of Toledo’s College of Law. I think that was actually a great thing for me to do,” he says.

Dorans in his college days, with buddies on house steps.

Rob Dorans in his college days

“How I ended up in the place I am now is based upon the connections I made before I got to law school. When I was as OU, I was very involved politically locally, got to work on some campaigns, some paid and some not paid, and that really set me up for the opportunity to work at the Ohio General Assembly before I went to law school, which is a great place to learn about public policy, both from a policy perspective and from a political perspective.

“And when I did go to law school, I carried those connections with me.”

Dorans graduated at the height of recession and was one of only two graduating from his law school with a full-time job already lined up.

The Dorans at College Democrats event

Dorans was active in College Democrats.

“The reason I ended up in that spot was that when I was at OU, I wasn’t just going to class. I wasn’t just doing the bare minimum. In fact, I was taking the public affairs Internship with Dr. Burton every single time I possibly could. He probably got tired of me coming into his office to say, ‘Hey sign this paper again.’

“But because of those connections, I had the ability to work on a successful state house campaign, which then led to a role in the Ohio General Assembly, which then led, when I was actually in law school, for someone who I had worked for, the speaker pro tem to say, ‘Hey, we need somebody to go help out with this campaign. Doran’s in Toledo now in law school, let’s go get him.’

“Two years later, his law firm is looking for someone to staff a clerkship position at the state building trades, and it’s ‘let’s just go get that guy.’ My career has sort of followed that path ever since.”

His advice to current students: “When you’re here, don’t just think that your education ends at the classroom door. Athens is a wonderful place not only to have an education, but to have life education. And then, two, if you are serious about graduate school, but you don’t quite know what it’s going to look like afterward, do a year or two in the workforce to figure it out or maybe make additional connections.… For me, taking that time off to go out and do some campaign work and work in the legislature was a huge, huge benefit for me moving forward with my career.”

Lauren Elliott-Dorans and Rob Dorans in the mountains

Lauren Elliott-Dorans and Rob Dorans in the mountains.


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