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Latest News - August 2013

August 21, 2013
Unions swipe at developer of Staten Island's Empire Outlets
Source: Staten Island Advance
Ryan Lavis

 BFC Partners, the developer of the Empire Outlets project in St. George, has incurred the displeasure of the borough's labor leaders, who complain that what they see as an insufficient number of union jobs constitutes a slap in the face to the borough's working class.

In an ancillary issue, the union reps cited concerns that non-union labor will lead to shoddy workmanship at what's destined to be the city's first outlet mall, in the shadow of the mammoth New York Wheel.

Most of the construction jobs, they believe, will go to transient workers from outside the borough.

The dissatisfaction dates to a meeting earlier this month between Don Capoccia, managing principal of BFC Partners, developers of Empire Outlets, and the Advance's editorial board.

During that meeting, Capoccia and his partners laid out the company's construction plan for its outlet mall, offering some concessions to the unions -- but obviously not enough.

"The developer has chosen, at this point, to do a project where most of the money is going into his pocket based on cutting labor costs and using the lowest possible cost of labor, rather than using skilled labor that is certified and able to do the job correctly," said Thomas Orlando, a business agent with Local 79 Construction and General Building Laborers.

Orlando and several other union delegates also recently met with the Advance's editorial board and discussed their concerns surrounding Empire Outlets.

Capoccia disagrees with these criticisms, his rationale being twofold. Besides wanting to provide equal opportunities for unemployed, non-union workers and subcontractors on the Island, he said there's also the price factor. 

The use of union labor exclusively, Capoccia said, would be too costly. "When you look at the numbers, you can't sustain a job that's 100 percent union," said Capoccia, noting he will pay about $40 a foot, on average, for a retail space that spans 340,000 square feet.

Developers of its neighboring yet entirely separate project, the New York Wheel, have already promised to build all-union.

But developers of Empire Outlets have said they will still dedicate a portion of the construction work for unions. Specifically, an infrastructure project totaling about $25 million will be made available to the construction trades, which will be subject to a Project Labor Agreement. That's roughly 10 percent of the project's estimated $250 million price tag.

Besides using organized labor, about 160 of the 800 temporary construction jobs will be set aside for unemployed, non-union Island residents. But the local union officials said they considered the proposals more of an insult than a compromise. Their primary goal is to have a Project Labor Agreement in place for the entire project.

"The notion that he [Capoccia] is working with the Building Trades to promote the Project Labor Agreement is utter nonsense," said Eamonn Carey, representative for the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters.

"He has been unwilling to agree to a solid community benefit agreement that actually benefits the people of Staten Island as much as it benefits him. I think Staten Island deserves a large portion of that work to be earned and spent right here."

As for the apparently exorbitant price that would come from building all-union, the union representatives admitted that while labor costs would certainly be higher, completion time would be 40-50 percent faster.

"Build it faster, build it safer, build it union," said Orlando, business agent at Local 79



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