If New York Governor Andrew Cuomo thought signing a hugely important Project Labor Agreement for the Tappan Zee Bridge would be the end of his infrastructure work this month, he was wrong. Leaders of four labor unions are urging progress in settling a dispute between the Governor and the Seneca Nation of Indians that is delaying $28.5 million worth of repairs to the Southern Tier Expressway.
The dispute revolves around the Governor’s refusal to adhere to language put in place by the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance, adopted in 1993, which requires a 3.5 percent administrative fee whenever the state comes onto tribal lands for major projects. The Seneca Nation believes it is owed $1 million while the Governor says the state will not pay because the project is “routine maintenance.”
The unions that have come to the Seneca Nation’s aid include Laborers Local 621, Operating Engineers Local 17 and the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Local 276. They have asked the Governor to pay the fee so that work can be done during the height of construction season. The unions also point out the long-standing working relationships between the state, the Seneca Nation, and their members, 5,000 of whom are being affected by the delay and some of whom are members of the Seneca Nation as well:
“We fully support this project going through Seneca property; it is a necessary project for the members to get back to work, and that section of Interstate 86 is in dire need of repair,” wrote Edward Giardini Jr., business manager of Olean based Laborers Local 621.
Alan Pero, supervisor of Operating Engineers Local 17, urged the state to comply with paying the administrative fee and questioned Cuomo’s claim of the job being “routine maintenance.” Rather, he called the road “in terrible condition” and “hazardous.”:
“The $28 million contract is not simply maintenance,” Pero wrote. “Moreover, if the state held this belief, it is unclear why the bid documents would include the [administrative fee] requirements.”