A statewide organization representing nonunion builders and contractors is renewing its call to eliminate the project labor agreement set to be included for the Buffalo Bills new stadium, or else they will not take part in the project.
ABC Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors continues to claim the use of a PLA, which requires that the majority of workers on a job be part of a union, will mean that many Western New York workers will be kept on the sidelines for the stadium build.
“We want to really harness the energy of the Buffalo fans and create a unique game-day experience,” said Scott Radecic, a former Bills linebacker who’s serving as the project executive for Populous, the stadium’s architect.
The project labor agreement, a more commonly used mechanism in recent years for bigger infrastructure projects around the state, does not prevent nonunion contractors and builders from bidding or working on the project.
But a spokesperson for ABC Empire State Chapter said the companies it represents throughout the state are united in being unwilling to work under the PLA’s terms. He estimates that will impact 70% to 75% of Western New York contractors and builders, depending on the trade.
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The threat is part of a pressure campaign by nonunion contractors to win changes in the project labor agreement before it is finalized as part of an overall agreement to build and finance the new stadium.
Tanner Schmidt, the spokesman for the ABC Empire State Chapter, said a PLA requires all contractors, including nonunion affiliated ones, to employ the majority of their workers from union halls, sidelining most of their own workers. In many PLAs, three of every four workers on a job must be part of a union, he said.
Ultimately, the use of a PLA in constructing the new stadium will likely require the use of unionized workers from Western Pennsylvania and downstate New York, Schmidt said. Workers may also come from New York City, which could help supply needed ironworkers.
“Our contractors and our members won’t bid on the PLAs because of the discrimination that’s involved with PLAs,” Schmidt said. “It’s also out of loyalty to their workforce. They don’t want to have to have that hard conversation with their workers about replacing them with union guys.”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and union leadership continue to refute claims that the PLA will cost Western New Yorkers jobs. Poloncarz has said at least 10,000 building trades workers will be employed on the project.
The renewed effort to rid the project of a project labor agreement came about after the Bills announced that they have chosen the general contractors to build the new stadium. They are Gilbane Building Co., a Rhode Island-based contractor, New York City-based Turner Construction and 34 Group, a Buffalo-based contractor started by former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas and his wife.
The Bills and the county and state are still in negotiations to finalize the new stadium deal, with plans for the project ground break remaining for spring 2023 and completion of it by the 2026 football season. A memorandum of understanding was reached by the sides in March.
“A project labor agreement in no way precludes nonunion contractors from working on the new Buffalo Bills stadium,” said Poloncarz spokesperson Peter Anderson. “It does guarantee fair wages and benefits for thousands of hardworking men and women construction workers of Western New York who will construct our beloved Bills’ new stadium.”
Project labor agreements are intended to minimize labor issues, establish cost standards and help projects stay on schedule, while often establishing requirements for diversity and safety standards. Union leaders have said that there cannot be a legal PLA unless it demonstrates a cost savings.
“The nonunion should flock to a PLA to tap the union’s depth of competent, qualified workers and New York State approved apprentices,” Christopher Stone, trustee for the Buffalo Building Trades Council, wrote in a letter to The Buffalo News earlier this year. “PLAs ensure a level playing field where all workers receive the prevailing rate of pay for their job classification.”
But critics of the plan say that, in reality, using a PLA means more than two-thirds of private construction companies – and their nonunion workforces – won’t get the opportunity to be part of the project and that will limit the labor supply and potential bidders for work, driving up the cost of what is projected to be a $1.4 billion construction project.
But PLAs have withstood legal challenges. The Supreme Court and New York State Court of Appeals have each struck down claims that PLAs are “anti-competitive.”
The state will put $600 million toward the stadium’s upfront construction costs, while the county will contribute $250 million. The Bills have agreed to pay the remaining construction costs, including any that exceed the $1.4 billion price tag.
Poloncarz has said the project labor agreement will ensure that more of the construction work goes to local workers, adding the county had one in place when it completed on-time renovations of the stadium in 2013 and 2014.
“What would have happened – and what does happen in some of these large projects elsewhere – is there are national contractors primarily nonunion who bid on these contracts. And they bid low, and then they bring the workforce in from other areas,” he said earlier this year.
“Does it make sense for Erie County to be investing $250 million, New York State to be investing $600 million, and then find out that the major contractor on the project is from Texas, bringing in employees from Florida and Texas who work basically above minimum wage?” Poloncarz said.
“In a perfect world, the PLA would be removed and all contractors, regardless of their labor affiliation, would be able to bid the job, as long as they’re qualified to do so,” Schmidt said, while conceding that this will be a difficult fight for nonunion contractors to win. “I think in this case, what the county executive and governor need to focus on is ensuring that the workers working on this project are from the region.”
The recent selection of the project’s general contractors was an important step in the stadium project because it will allow work to begin on the logistics of getting construction started and lining up the dozens – if not hundreds – of suppliers, subcontractors and vendors that will be involved in the build.
While the stadium project is being funded with both public and private money, it is being managed as a private construction project, so the selection of the contractors was not subject to the same type of competitive bidding that a public project would be.
A website, buffalobillsnewstadium.com, will soon be launched with information about the project and how vendors, suppliers, trade contractors and professional service firms can learn about opportunities for work on the new stadium. Information sessions are also being planned in the coming weeks.
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