Dozens of local workers demonstrated outside Florida Town Hall Monday, calling for local workers to be involved in the construction of the new Beech-Nut baby food factory planned for the Florida Business Park on state Route 5S.
The rally preceded a meeting of the town’s Planning Board, which is reviewing a site plan and subdivision application for the $124.8 million project.
The board reserved a decision Monday so it can review information recently received concerning the facility’s power supply, maintenance of a 1,300-foot sewer line and details on a visual buffer between the factory and the new Mohawk Hills housing development just to the east.
Discussion both inside and outside the meeting, however, focused more on who will work on the project.
“They’re taking local jobs away,” said Brian Coumbes of Latham, a member of Local 7 of the Steamfitters Union.
Labor organizers are taking issue with the recent announcement by the Hero Group/Beech-Nut that North Carolina-based Buckner Steel Erection was awarded a contract on the project.
People picketing Monday said the local incentives being offered to the company, including a payment in lieu of taxes agreement which requires no payments until 2021, is being supported by local taxpayers.
Mark Sowalski, council representative of the Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters, said organizers support Beech-Nut’s building in Montgomery County, which will preserve more than 350 jobs, but said the company’s dedication to the community should start well before baby food is produced.
“It’s the building of this plant that has to come first. Local workers need these jobs,” Sowalski said.
Nicklaus Weaver of Latham, a member of Local 7 of the Steamfitters Union, said there are numerous union members “sitting on the bench” — or laid off — who could use some work that’s not 40 or 50 miles away.
“This would take a lot of people off the bench,” Weaver said.
The Hero Group/Beech-Nut put out a statement Monday expressing disappointment that the company is being targeted with “complaints and protests by organized labor.”
The statement, attributed to Hero/Beech-Nut Vice President Edouard Feller, says that Rifenburg Construction of Troy, Rochester Structural Steel Fabricators and Stone Bridge Iron & Steel in Gansevoort all got a piece of the most recent $20 million in contracts so far.
During Monday’s Planning Board meeting, project manager Jim Ivey of The Facility Group, which is managing the construction, said it is in the company’s best interest to hire local workers.
Ivey said officials intend to keep local companies apprised of bidding schedules so they can all have a chance to get in on the work.
Ivey said it’s possible local workers could wind up with as much as 80 percent or more of the work.