The Buffalo News
Unions Winning Support On Issue Of Local Hiring
Several Erie County legislators are supporting union efforts to push for the hiring of local construction workers on area projects, but they aren't proposing any legislative changes for now.
Members of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council claim that local workers are losing out on opportunities at several area construction projects that are largely employing people from outside the region.
Five county legislators and Assemblyman Richard Smith, D-Hamburg, joined union officials outside a hotel under construction in Cheektowaga that they say has predominantly used workers from beyond the Buffalo Niagara region.
The legislators said they'll explore options for ensuring a high percentage of local people would be hired for projects that receive public support.
Tharaldson Development of North Dakota is building a Residence Inn by Marriott near the Walden Galleria. The project's superintendent, John Stearns, has contested the unions' claims, saying that he's been employing a mix of local and out-of-town people.
Daniel Boody, president of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, said he doesn't have a problem with out-of-town contractors pursuing contracts here.
"If people want to come here and they want to bid work, fine," Boody said. "But there's going to be certain conditions that they're going to have to follow, if they want to bring people here.
"It can't just be open season in Erie County for anybody that wants to come here, bid whatever they want, bring whoever they want, and run away with our money and work opportunities for our people," he said.
Union officials also claim that the U.S. Border Patrol, acting on union tips, have picked up several suspected illegal immigrants in recent weeks who had been working at construction projects in the area.
Albert DeBenedetti, the legislature's chairman, said a resolution will be developed in support of hiring local people on local construction jobs. It will also call on the state Department of Labor, U.S. Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to crack down on illegal aliens on work sites, he said.
But such a resolution wouldn't set limits on the hiring of out-of-town workers on publicly supported projects, the legislators said.
Charles Swanick, D-Kenmore, said the legislators will research what other communities have on the books to ensure the hiring of local workers before they take any steps on that front.
"We will do something that is legal and meets the court standard," Swanick said.
Boody said Suffolk County has imposed stricter "responsible bidder" and apprenticeship training standards that Erie County might consider adopting.
Unions have also pointed to an example from the Rochester area. The County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency has a clause requiring that companies seeking most types of assistance through the agency must use at least 90 percent local labor and local suppliers on their construction projects.
The clause doesn't bar out-of-town contractors from those projects, but it requires them to rely heavily on people and suppliers from a six-county area, said Michael Downey, a board member of the Rochester agency. Companies that are unable to find the workers or suppliers they need must apply for written waivers.
Union officials used the Residence Inn by Marriott site to focus attention on the use of out-of-town workers. But the Cheektowaga project is not receiving public support through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.
Another project the unions say is using some workers from out of town, at the Frederick Douglass Towers in Buffalo, is receiving ECIDA support. Norstar Development USA, a Canadian firm, is the project's designated developer.