First Wind, developer of the 16-turbine wind farm in Sheffield, is defending its choice of a Wisconsin-based general contractor for the turbine work.
John Lamontagne, Boston-based First Wind communications director, responded to criticism levied against First Wind by Ironworkers Local 7 representative Michael Morelli from South Burlington. Lamontagne said many local workers are finding jobs at the site.
Morelli talked at the Statehouse Wednesday about First Wind and his concern about local iron workers being bypassed. Ground was broken in the fall on the $90 million Sheffield project and the turbines are expected in June.
“Some union guy went complaining around the [Vermont] statehouse that our contractor didn’t hire local union iron workers on the project,” Lamontagne said. “And it’s true – the work they’re complaining about is highly specialized. The contractor hired is highly experienced. Beyond that, it was an open bidding process.”
A similar criticism was levied by the Manchester, N.H., business agent and industry analyst for Local 7, Shawn Clearly. Clearly said many jobs promised to granite state workers connected with a 33-turbine wind project in Dummer and four neighboring unincorporated areas of Coos County have instead gone out of state
Madison, Wisc.-based RMT, has been hired as the general contractor for both projects.
Morelli said when the union was gearing up for the jobs he learned RMT was importing workers from Utah for the Sheffield project and the union was being cut out. He said he was told the union would cost $400,000 more and it was a financial decision.
Morelli told them “something’s wrong with your math.” He believes language in the Public Service Board’s certificate of public good issued to First Wind promised more work for locals than is coming through.
Morelli provided a November e-mail in which RMT vice president for construction Walter Kurzeja stated, “Thank you for the phone call and we look forward to working with the iron workers. Per our conversation RMT will seek to have a majority of the iron workers assigned to the job be Vermont residents. In addition, RMT will seek to staff with up to 25 percent of the crew with our employees.”
Friday, Morelli said that he was told specialized training for all workers would be offered on site, and come April, he was dismayed to learn the iron workers’ union had been bypassed.
A drive through the main parking areas at the construction site Friday showed license plates from throughout the country, including Wisconsin, Utah, Nebraska, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire. At most there were 15 Vermont plates in the two main parking areas, and a handful from New Hampshire counted by Morelli.
He said for First Wind to say it needed to use RMT for specialized work related to the turbines is a cop out. Morelli said the iron workers’ union could have done every bit of the work and still wants to.
“That’s not economic development having them come in with workers from out of state … they have kept saying it’s going to be local construction jobs. My men are affected by this,” Morelli said. “I was hoping to get 25 to 30 guys there – from Vermont.”
In late April, when the union learned it was being left out, Morelli wrote to Tracy Bredeson, RMT human resources manager.
“I do not understand how it can be $400,000 more,” he wrote. “Would like to see the math. RMT is paying imported workers $25 an hour [and) $7.25 an hour in fringes and $123 a day travel. If you divide $123 by 8 for 8 hours worked in a day, that is $15 an hour more to the whole package or $47.25 an hour. The iron workers total package is $40 an hour.”
Lamontagne said, “RMT has hired some 30 local companies in Vermont to work on the project. We expect two-thirds of the work getting done will be by local people.”
Lamontagne said he did not have an exact breakdown, though, of the specifics.
“We expect to have 160-170 people working on the site,” he said. “Most will be Vermonters. Whenever we have a project, we require our contractor to hire local subcontractors whenever possible – so long as they are qualified and cost competitive.
“Thus far, people from 25 Vermont companies have worked on the project, and much more work is scheduled for the next couple months,” Lamontagne said. “Beyond the Vermont workers, those from out of state are staying in local hotels and houses, eating at local restaurants, buying groceries and gasoline at local stores and stations.”
According to Lamontagne, work being done by Vermont companies include:
Concrete mix and pouring.
Construction of the substation.
Some of the electrical work.
Landscape and environmental work.
Local contractors, according to Lamontagne, include: JA McDonald, civil work, roads, construction of a bridge on the site and the substation; Hopkins Oil /Bourne’s Energy is providing fuel supplies; Deter Security is handling security and flagging; Milton CAT is providing heavy equipment rental; and Carroll Concrete is providing all the concrete on the site.
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