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Upstate, Lawmakers Eye Project Labor Agreements for Buffalo, Syracuse

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Major construction projects in upstate New York are being evaluated for the possible use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) to ensure efficiency and local hiring.  A series of solar projects in Buffalo and renovations to the state fair facility in Syracuse are going to bring large numbers of jobs to their respective regions, so local politicians are fighting for economic protections associated with PLAs.

The Office of General Services issued an addendum to the Request for Proposal (RFP), just days before bids are due on the $4.5 million contract, which calls for a PLA evaluation.  If the agreement is agreed to, the winning contractor will likely have to negotiate with local unions to supply labor.

Speaking on behalf of the Office of General Services was Heather Groll, who told that “state officials will review the economic viability of a PLA that includes the ability to get a number of projects done in time for next year’s State Fair.” Groll added that PLAs are common for projects of this size.  

The contract to become construction manager is the specific focus and will cover for two years with a third-year option. $60 million worth of work is expected to be completed to renovate and modernize the state fair facility in Syracuse.

In Buffalo, the Niagara County legislature voted to move forward with an Amherst-based company, Solar Liberty Energy Systems, which will have the sole right to negotiate with the county to sell electricity from three huge solar arrays that are soon to be constructed.  State solar power incentive programs will allow the county to save $4.75 million on its utility bills over the next 20 years.  

The solar arrays will be able to generate 1.8 megawatts of electricity, which will be sold into the state energy grid.  The county will then be reimbursed.  While no PLA was attached to the projects, they were called for by politicians from both parties and could still be on the horizon:

The Legislature spent nearly half an hour in closed session after voices were raised in favor of a local hiring requirement.

While Legislator Richard L. Andres Jr., R-North Tonawanda, called for a study of a project labor agreement, Legislator Mark J. Grozio, D-Niagara Falls, said the county should simply include the requirement in the resolution authorizing the negotiations. That would have made local hiring mandatory.

After the negotiating session, Grozio dropped his amendment and no local hiring mandate was included in the deal.  However, Grozio did tell the Buffalo News that “we’ll let the negotiations go” while insisting on providing jobs for Niagara County residents.  

The dropped amendment may have resulted from the fact that Solar Liberty is a local business.  Rob Gauchat, Vice President of Sales and Operations for Solar Liberty, said that the Erie County company has 70 employees, though more may be needed for the upcoming projects. That is where the local hiring concerns come in. 

The county has a standing policy that calls for PLA studies to be done on any project over $1.5 million.  However, there is debate about whether this qualifies as a county construction project given that the county is only leasing the land for the project to occur on.  

Solar power has been a boon for the region’s construction workers.  The Buffalo News writes that the workforce at the SolarCity plant will jump from 450 workers to more than 1,200 in the upcoming weeks.  The facility is the $900 million centerpiece of Gov. Cuomo’s $1 billion investment in the city.  Upon completion, it will create as many as 1,460 jobs for factory workers who will be able to produce up to 10,000 solar panels each day.


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