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L.I. Building Trades In Search of State Legislators With Some Backbone

April 17, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

IDA reforms hinge on support from Albany legislators.
IDA reforms hinge on support from Albany legislators.

Hauppauge, NY – Despite significant public investment made possible through the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency [IDA], the hardest things to find at area construction sites on Long Island these days, may just be automobiles bearing local tags. But the group representing more than 59,000 highly-trained tradesmen and tradeswomen on Long Island says that two short paragraphs in IDA language could make sure that more jobs go to hard-pressed area residents – if only some state legislator with enough guts would take up the cause.

“No one wants to be the first one to do it, but that’s ridiculous,” says Richard O’Kane, head of the Building Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk. “We’re trying to see who really has the backbone around here.”

The Building Trades Council has been pushing Long Island municipals to start asserting apprenticeship program requirements on development projects benefiting from public investment. 

So far, however, the group has heard lots of supportive talk, but little else.

Private developers on Long Island as well as elsewhere around the state, benefit greatly from public investment. The latest IDA performance report issued by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office found that in 2011, the 113 active IDAs located throughout New York State supported 4,486 projects and provided total tax exemptions of nearly $1.5 billion. 

According to O’Kane, however, too many of the jobs generated by those publicly supported projects went to untrained, out-of-state workers willing to labor for sub-par wages and non-existent benefits. 

“In principal, an IDA is a good thing to try and bring about local jobs with local contractors,” O’Kane said. “But they do everything but that. There are people that come from Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey – it’s just amazing that they’d come all the way from California to do these jobs, but not one local person will be hired.”

In addition to doing nothing to staunch local unemployment, the Building Trades Council argues that local economies are also suffering under ineffective IDA policies because out-of-state workers do not invest their dollars here. 

The remedy, the group insists, is making public investment contingent upon developments of over $100,000 being part of certifiable apprenticeship programs recognized by the Department of Labor.

“What training do they have?” O’Kane says. “Where do they get it? Every one of our affiliates has a school for training. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars throughout the country on training.”

At last month’s National Legislative Conference held in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez called Building Trades apprenticeship programs the “gold standard” for the entire nation. 

President Obama has already called for a four-year, $2 billion investment to double the number of apprenticeships in the country over the next five years.

“No one knows apprenticeships like the building trades,” Perez said. “You’ve been doing it for over 60 years, developing world-class curriculum, utilizing cutting-edge technology, never compromising on quality, leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars of private sector dollars a year to build state-of-the-art, industry-driven programs.” 

The comptroller’s IDA report, meanwhile, goes on to state that, “It is vitally important that the granting of tax exemptions for a project will generate an economic benefit in the form of well-paying jobs and/or future new revenues for local governments.”

The latest IDA-related construction projects in Suffolk and Nassau counties include the Rubies Costume building in Brentwood, the Marriott Hotel in Central Islip, Claire Rose building in Shirley, Mill Creek Apartments in Mineola and Cold Spring Harbor Labs.

Still, unemployment among skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen in those areas remains a big problem. 

“There’re a lot of people out of work right now,” Suffolk County Legislator Bill Lindsay III said. “Generally, speaking, in Suffolk County, when union people are working, the county is doing much better.”

Lindsay chairs the Economic Development Committee, and is supportive of the drive to reform Long Island’s IDAs.

“When they take that money and spend it on labor outside of the region, that’s counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish,” the District 8 representative said. “I think by putting in apprenticeship language, it would guarantee that we would be using local labor for any of those expansion projects.”

Such a move, however, requires approval from the State Legislature. 

“We’re doing our research right now to find out what it would take in order to make that happen,” Lindsay said. “We’re trying to find someone in the assembly and the senate to work with us on legislation.”

O’Kane thinks there just may be bipartisan support to reform the IDAs and include apprenticeship language – and he’s more than ready to bring that fight straight to Albany. 

“Not many people disagree with me,” O’Kane said. “Let’s see how good the talk is.”

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