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Op-ed column: Beech-Nut new facility deal reveals disdain for existing work force

Op-ed column: Beech-Nut new facility deal reveals disdain for existing work force

A May 5 news story reported that local union members protested at Florida Town Hall for construction
Op-ed column: Beech-Nut new facility deal reveals disdain for existing work force
Matt Wuerker/Newscom
Photographer: Matt Wuerker/Newscom

A May 5 news story reported that local union members protested at Florida Town Hall for construction jobs at Beech-Nut’s new facility. While this was accurate, it was only part of the story.

The larger issue of Industrial Development Agency reform is of importance to all residents of New York. IDAs now reveal a culture of desperation as good-paying manufacturing jobs dry up and move from the state as a result of bad trade international agreements. To combat this exodus, our state officials have embarked on a mission to save these jobs by bestowing lavish deals on corporations.

In the Beech-Nut deal, the taxpayers will give the company $108 million of tax rebates and incentives to build a new $124 million facility — just 22 miles down the road from the existing site.

This money is offered with few strings attached. There are no requirements that Beech-Nut hire its existing work force. There’s no requirement that it use local contractors or local workers from the county or the state to build the new facility. There’s no requirement that it use contractors with a New York state-registered apprenticeship program that would provide jobs and careers to our youth, so they don’t move away. In fact, there is no restriction on using out-of-state workers or, for that matter, undocumented workers.

The local union movement and, in particular, the building trades, asked for a meeting with Beech-Nut officials on the day of the much-ballyhooed press conference many months ago. We asked local politicians, such as Amsterdam Town Supervisor Tom DiMezza and former Assemblyman Paul Tonko, who were at that press conference, to help us get that meeting — their silence was deafening.

The Montgomery Board of Supervisors was not much better. The prevailing thought was “let’s not rock the boat,” for fear Beech-Nut will leave.

Ken Rose, director of Montgomery County Industrial Development, was the most astounding disappointment of all, showing utter disdain for unions and espousing anti-union facts and misleading studies to support his erroneous and distorted views. His lack of expertise in bringing all interested parties to the table further exacerbated the chain of events that led to the massive demonstration by at least 175 interested citizens and has spawned at least three opposition camps.

The IDA’s mission statement claims the purpose of their agency is to: “. . . enhance the quality of life in Montgomery County through the creation of jobs” and “. . . work with local employers to promote capital investment and job creation.” But their actions contradict their written words.

Instead they have brokered a deal of corporate welfare that is almost unparalleled by any in this state. Beech-Nut will receive millions of dollars in local taxpayer subsidies, with no guarantee that the people, whose tax dollars fund this project, will work on its construction.

True economic development includes all local workers. It’s disgusting that after we gave Beech-Nut $108 million they would be so arrogant as to award a major contract to an out-of-state firm from North Carolina, a firm that will employ out-of-state workers, who will be paid with our tax dollars.

Press statement

Beech-Nut released a press statement that claimed this contract was less than 20 percent of the contracts awarded so far. They chose to ignore the fact that this contract could have employed 25 to 30 local iron workers for four months, generating more than 23,000 hours of work, totaling $1.1 million in wages that would have been spent here on food and property taxes.

We count on our local politicians to be our last line of defense. It’s their duty to protect the local workers and taxpayers when all others fail. We can only pray that our local officials hear us loud and clear. We need them to stand with us and tell Beech-Nut no jobs, no money.

Likewise, it has become painfully obvious that the Montgomery County IDA has acted in a way that has allowed local workers to be exploited. They have made a mockery of economic development and excluded local workers from jobs they deserve. They have not attempted to correct this injustice even after repeated requests. As such, we call for the immediate resignation of Ken Rose and the entire IDA board.

Frank Natalie is the president of the Schenectady Central Labor Council, which represents more than 11,000 union members and their families in Montgomery County. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

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