PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators rejected a plea to create a Project Labor Agreement for the upcoming major airport expansion.
Work on the $54 million terminal expansion at Plattsburgh International Airport is expected to begin later this year.
Area union officials wanted the county to adopt the agreement, which ensures the use of organized labor workers on the job.
But county leaders and local contractors say that type of agreement does not guarantee any savings on the project and that union workers can still be hired.
John Donoghue, president of the Plattsburgh-Saranac Lake Building Trades Council and business agent for Laborers Local 1822 in Plattsburgh, told legislators at Wednesday night’s meeting that Project Labor Agreements have been proven to save money on major projects.
He noted that the construction of a new jail in St. Lawrence County last year wound up on time and about $750,000 under budget with the agreement in place.
“Taxpayers deserve a chance to save nearly $1 million on this project,” Donahue said. “They deserve a chance to look into this.”
Betty Lennon of the Northeast Labor Council reminded legislators that many of them said they supported local labor when they ran for office last year.
“We need good-paying jobs for local people,” she said.
“We heard many times during the campaign that you support local jobs.”
Clinton County Administrator Michael Zurlo explained that a Project Labor Agreement is basically a collective bargaining agreement for individual projects.
Work details of each part of the project need to be negotiated, and workers must be hired through local union halls, he said.
Project Labor Agreements are not required by the federal government but are encouraged.
TIME, COST ISSUES
The county voted last year to undertake the expansion and is seeking up to $9.5 million in federal funding to help pay for it.
The deadline to submit the application is May 19.
Legislator Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru), who chairs the county’s Airport Committee, said there isn’t enough time to do a feasibility study on whether a Project Labor Agreement would actually save money, which is required, and then to negotiate an agreement.
A study would cost about $20,000, and negotiating a contract would also add $50,000 to $60,000, he said.
“We are going to stay on track and not risk losing out on possibly up to $9.5 million,” Langley told the Press-Republican.
Other legislators argued that the project can be completed without a Project Labor Agreement and that local union workers can still be hired.
“We need to trust the free market,” Legislator Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) said at the meeting.
“It’s not our job to funnel labor through the local union hall.”
Legislator John Gallagher (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) said a Project Labor Agreement would offer better control over how the job was done, with spelled-out shift times and schedules.
“This has nothing to do with unions,” he said.
“It’s about the process.”
Donoghue said that having agreed-upon schedules is critical because they will ensure that the general contractor and subcontractors are not working on different schedules, which could affect the timetable of the project.
Ted Luck of Luck Brothers Inc., a local contractor, told the Press-Republican that a Project Labor Agreement could, in fact, jeopardize the use of local labor on a project.
If one is put in place, many local builders probably would not even bid on the job, he said.
“The truth is that non-union firms, such as ours, refuse to bid on contracts containing PLAs because it forces us to abandon using our own loyal, highly trained and equally compensated workers at the expense of workers who have never worked for us, many of whom are from out of the area and, in some cases, out of state,” Luck said.
Workers on projects funded by federal money must all receive prevailing wage, whether a Project Labor Agreement is in place or not.
Gallagher offered a resolution to conduct a study on whether a Project Labor Agreement would be useful, but it failed by a 6-4 vote.
Legislators Jonathan Beach (R-Area 2, Altona), Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain), Chairman Sam Dyer (D-Area 3, Beekmantown), Peter Keenan (D-Area 5, Peru), Langley and Dame voted against Gallagher’s resolution.
Legislators Colin Read (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh), Patty Waldron (D-Area 6, Saranac) and Robert Hall (D-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh) joined Gallagher in supporting the measure.
Donoghue said criticism that the union was trying to take advantage of the new Democratic Party majority on the legislature by pushing for the Project Labor Agreement was unfounded.
“There has not been a big project like this here in a long time, and we would have pushed for this no matter who was in the majority,” he said.
Donoghue also said he has been speaking to county leaders since January about a Project Labor Agreement, and he was never told of any deadlines.
“Now we will just sit and watch, and hopefully some local people get hired,” he said.
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