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Latest News - July 2010

July 15, 2010
Unions get preference on Champlain Bridge
Source: PressRepublican
By: LOHR McKINSTRY Staff Writer

CROWN POINT — After New York and Vermont declined to use a union-based project labor agreement for the new Champlain Bridge, the contractor hired to build the bridge quietly signed one.

The private project labor agreement executed by Flatiron Constructors of Longmont, Colo., is expected to save the firm more than $1 million in labor costs, but means local residents are unlikely to get jobs on the project unless they belong to a trade union or sign up with one.

Local elected officials went to a meeting Tuesday with Flatiron representatives to get information, Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider said.

"We found out there is a PLA in effect. People have to go to the union halls to apply for jobs building the bridge."

Flatiron has already hired some subcontractors for the project, including Reale Construction of Ticonderoga and Cardona Construction of Schenectady.

"It's not union-only, but only some will be non-union," Kosmider said. "The unions will draw from a list of workers. When the list is gone Flatiron can hire anyone."

Flatiron press officer Christie DeLuca said Wednesday she had to research why Flatiron did a labor agreement, but the firm released a statement on how it works.

"Flatiron has established a project labor agreement with both New York- and Vermont-based local unions regarding wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment applicable to Flatiron. Under the terms of the PLA, the individual trade unions are responsible for making referrals for employment to the project as the need for workers arises. Applicants do not need to be affiliated with any union to be placed on the referral list."

The statement said Flatiron needs workers with experience in carpentry, ironwork, heavy-equipment operation, masonry and general construction labor, and those who qualify should contact the applicable trade union.

State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carol Breen said the DOT had no input into Flatiron's use of the labor agreement.

She provided a copy of Flatiron's statement on the agreement. "We're letting this speak for itself."

Rebecca A. Meinking, spokeswoman for the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, said her group was opposed to a labor agreement for the project back when the states were considering one.

"It is a shame that the work opportunities will be limited to union workers. This is about employing union workers who pay union dues and contribute to the underfunded union pension plans, pure and simple."

She said she doubts that non-union workers will get jobs on the bridge.

"I would imagine that the unions promised not to create havoc on the job site in exchange for this private PLA."

A project labor agreement is a collective bargaining agreement with labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project. Before any workers are hired on the project, construction unions and contractors determine the wage rates and benefits of all employees working on the project and agree to prevent any strikes, lockouts, or other work stoppages for the length of the project.

Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said Flatiron told them it wants any workers who have the right skills.

"You don't have to be a card-carrying member of the union. You can go to the union hall and put your name in."

They will, however, give preference to union workers that are out of work, he said.

"There was miscommunication in the beginning that made it appear it would be union and non-union (labor on the bridge)."

Flatiron was awarded a $69.6 million contract by the New York State Department of Transportation to construct the new bridge connecting Crown Point and Chimney Point, Vt. Work is slated to be finished by September 2011.

The original 1929 bridge was demolished in December 2009 because inspections deemed it unsafe. The new bridge, spanning 2,200 feet over a narrow stretch of southern Lake Champlain, will be constructed with conventional steel girder approaches and a modified network-tied-arch main span. The main section will be assembled on land near the Van Slooten Harbour Marina in Port Henry and then floated and hoisted into position.

Work on the bridge has commenced, Scozzafava said.

"There's a perception they're not hiring local people. That's not true. There's a lot of local people working there now."



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