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Union pickets downtown Schenectady construction project

Union pickets downtown Schenectady construction project

Non-union workers building Electric City Apartments not getting prevailing wage, union charges
Union pickets downtown Schenectady construction project
Union members picket the Electric City Apartments project in Schenectady on Wednesday, May 23, 2018.
Photographer: John Cropley

SCHENECTADY — Trade union members picketed the apartment building being constructed at State Street and Erie Boulevard on Wednesday, charging that non-union workers there are getting far less than the prevailing area union compensation.

The informational picket was coordinated by the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters; most of those chanting and carrying signs were members, though at least one was a plumber.

Electric City Apartments is a $20 million project that will create apartments and retail space on what had been a run down stretch of State Street just west of a zone that has seen much revitalization over the past dozen years.

The project suffered a significant delay when a landmark building next door become unstable. After it was demolished, construction resumed and is now well under way.

The carpenters carried signs that named Bellevue Builders Supply — the framing subcontractor on the project. The overall project is being done by Highbridge Development.

Highbridge and Bellevue did not return return requests for comment on Wednesday.

The problem is not that Bellevue is a non-union operation, the carpenters said, it’s that it is undercutting unions and shortchanging workers.

Tony Bianchini, a spokesman for the carpenters union, said his local representatives have learned workers on the project are averaging $25 an hour in wages. Some also are getting health and retirement benefits, while some are not, he added.

Total compensation for a journeyman carpenter belonging to Albany-based Local 291 is $51.78 per hour: Of that, $30.93 is wages and $20.85 pays for benefits. The total will increase to $52.88 on July 1.

“It’s an issue that’s prevalent throughout the country,” Bianchini said, adding that the union isn’t opposed to non-union labor per se; it’s opposed to non-union labor being exploited to the detriment of the workers and the unions. 

“It’s not a union-nonunion issue,” he said. “The workers are getting paid less than they should be.”

The union chose this job site to picket, Bianchini said, because it is getting taxpayer assistance and should be doing right by those who are doing the work.

The union is correct about the subsidy but not about the details: Those on the picket line thought it was the city subsidizing the project through its Industrial Development Agency, but in fact, it’s the state. The Empire State Development Corp. provided $1.2 million in 2015 through its program of regional economic development grants.

“We don’t have any funding in the project,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, which administers the IDA.

To the larger issue the union raised, Gillen said the prevailing wage is required to be paid to workers on projects that Metroplex itself undertakes, but not for those it helps private industry undertake.

“If we bid a project, anything we do, we include prevailing wage,” he said. “But this is ... a privately funded project with state assistance.”

Empire State Development was not immediately able Wednesday to detail any policy it has on prevailing wage requirements for projects it assists.

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