By Mark Scheer
NIAGARA FALLS — A group of community organizers believes Niagara Falls residents will be shortchanged under a proposed labor agreement tied to the construction of the city’s new train station.
Members of the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, a coalition of local religious, labor and community leaders, delivered a letter on Monday to Mayor Paul Dyster asking him to push for revisions to the deal that would require a higher percentage of the available construction jobs to be given to women, minorities and city residents in general.
NOAH leaders claim the initial project labor agreement developed by the city’s engineering firm, Wendell and Associates, does not go far enough to protect the interests of the local workforce. They are especially concerned about the percentages included for the hiring of women, minorities and so-called “disadvantaged business enterprises” in the Falls.
“We don’t want another Norampac,” said NOAH jobs taskforce committee Chairman Tyrone Wooten, referring to similar concerns raised last year about the number of local workers being hired for the construction of a new $400 million paperboard manufacturing plant off Packard Road. “We don’t want it to come to that, but that’s where this is going.”
Construction of the new station is slated to begin this spring. The construction schedule calls for the work to be completed and the station to be opened in 2013. Project labor agreements have been used in advance of construction work on several large-scale development projects in Niagara County in the past. Such agreements establish terms and conditions of employment with area labor unions before any hiring is done.
The PLA developed by Wendell calls for at least 50 percent of the overall workforce to be hired from Niagara Falls, with 7 percent of the available jobs being awarded to minorities, 6.9 percent to women and 11 percent to disadvantaged business enterprises. In light of the city’s high unemployment rate and current economic condition, NOAH insists higher percentages should be required across the board.
“Based on state and federal law, these figure are not the highest that the PLA can include,” said the Rev. David Crapnell, president of NOAH and Pastor of First Presbyterian.
Dyster said his administration understands NOAH’s concerns and is still working to address them. He said he wants to make sure the city’s workforce is adequately represented as the project moves forward but noted that the city and its consultant has to work within the constraints imposed by the rules of the funding sources, in this case the federal government.
“My administration is sympathetic to what NOAH’s trying to do and we’re trying to accomplish this as well as we can,” Dyster said.
In its letter to Dyster, NOAH suggested racial and ethnic minorities should receive 30 percent of the total construction hours and 30 percent of any professional services work. In addition, NOAH believes the agreement should require 10 percent of the total construction hours be delivered to women, with another 60 percent being distributed as “on-the-job training construction hours” for graduates of a proposed pre-apprenticeship program. NOAH would also like to see any future agreement require 50 percent of the total construction hours be given to city residents, 65 percent for workers living in the county and 35 percent afforded to residents living in “contiguous counties.” NOAH has called for the creation of a job coordinator position to monitor compliance
Wooten said the hiring percentages in the proposed project labor agreement are not reflective of the city’s population. NOAH members would now like to meet with Dyster this month to discuss the situation. They would also like a comprehensive feasibility study to be performed in an effort to provide “more accurate and equitable” hiring percentages that are more in line with population statistics in the city of Niagara Falls.
“I feel like if this train station is being built in the city of Niagara Falls, they should be using city of Niagara Falls percentages and not the county,” Wooten said.
Dyster said he is open to performing such a study and also supports efforts to fund a job training program that would allow city residents to learn as they go while earning a paycheck for performing various construction work at the train station site. He said initial plans called for that aspect of the project to be funded with federal dollars but the city has since learned it cannot use those funds for that purpose. Instead, Dyster said he plans to ask the city council for support in allocating money for such a training program.
Overall, Dyster said he is committed to having as many city residents employed on the project as possible and noted that, as the PLA stands now, at least 50 percent of the project work would go to county worker.
“We’re very concerned about doing anything that would jeopardize the project as a whole because there are a lot of positive aspects of this project,” he said.