Board deadlocks on labor pact
News Northtowns Bureau

Grand Island Central School Board members deadlocked Wednesday in a vote on whether to approve a project labor agreement for the delayed $18.4 million capital project. The tie vote, in effect, kills the proposal.

The School Board, in a special meeting, split 3-3 on the issue, with one absention, after considering a consultant's report suggesting that the district would save between $130,000 and $150,000 with a project labor agreement. The report cost the district $16,000.

"I'm disappointed because the report indicated there would be savings and other benefits - tangible and intangible but that was not the decision of the board," said board President Richard McCowan.

McCowan joined board members Jeri Schopp and Frank DelSignore in supporting a project labor agreement. Board members Susan Gill, Myrna Blair and David Goris were opposed. Michael Dlugosz abstained.

"My concerns come from the fiscal-responsibility standpoint for the taxpayers," Goris said, citing his reluctance to "limit competition" in bidding by non-union contractors.

But Tom Campbell, a spokesman for the Building Trades Council, disagreed, saying that having a project labor agreement ensures that Grand Island and Western New York laborers will work under the contract for the state's prevailing wage rate.

"PLAs do not restrict the open bidding process. There's no stopping (non-union contractors) from going out and submitting a bid," Campbell said.

"They're not even hiring non-union local workers. They're just bringing people in from out of state. They turn around and (subcontract) the work out if no one stays on top of them."

Not so, according to Grand Island resident William Schaab, a non-union insulation contractor who runs Coverco.

"They want to be king of the mountain. We don't want to exclude the unions, the unions want to exclude us," Schaab said, explaining that he employs 35 local workers and that in many cases non-union laborers earn more than union workers.

Further, Schaab argued that a project labor agreement would establish "onerous rules" that limit competition.

"We are more productive, more competitive and more efficient without PLA rules," Schaab said. "We want open bidding, and we want a free market; it's the American way. Without a PLA, you have open competition, and it drives the costs down.

"The job will probably be done 75 percent union, anyway."

The Grand Island capital project is no stranger to contentious debate. The project and the School Board have come under fire in recent months on a variety of issues.

A vocal minority of residents regularly accuses school officials of misleading the public about the project, which was approved by voters in 1999 but gained architectural approval only in late January.

Nevertheless, with Wednesday's issue apparently resolved, McCowan said the board will next focus on getting the project out to bid.

The capital project includes items ranging from parking lot and sidewalk replacement on Ransom Road to new locker rooms at the high school, as well as renovation of music and science rooms there.