LOWVILLE – About a dozen union representatives spent a few hours Tuesday morning outside the Lewis County Industrial Development Agency protesting the use of out-of-state, nonunion workers on the Copenhagen Wind Farm project.
However, representatives of the IDA and contractor contend many workers on the project are local, even if they may not be union members.
“They’re bringing in people from outside the area,” said William Shelly, business representative for Upstate New York Operating Engineers Local 158, which represents heavy equipment operators, mechanics and surveyors throughout most of upstate.
“We’re just looking for an equal playing field here,” added Michael Lyons, district manager for Local 158.
Officials from that union said they have 4,000 members, including roughly 300 in the north country.
“They’re losing out on the benefits of being able to work locally,” Mr. Lyons said, noting members of his union have worked on wind projects throughout the state over the past couple years.
He also touted the stringent safety standards for unionized crane operators and questioned whether nonunion members would have that kind of training and expertise.
“I know that a lot of local residents have called the IDA and voiced their frustration,” Scott E. Hilyard, president of Local 1822, Laborers’ International Union of North America, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Lewis County IDA has tuned out our concerns and done nothing.”
Mr. Hilyard, whose union represents construction workers in seven counties, has complained that Wesson Group LLC in Johnstown, whose employees belong to the union, lost subcontracting work for access road construction.
Wind developer EDF Renewable Energy has payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements with Lewis County, the Copenhagen and Lowville Academy central school districts, Jefferson County and the towns of Denmark, Champion and Rutland. Because of that, union officials have been lobbying the Lewis County IDA, which will administer the PILOT, to lobby for increased use of union employees.
Roscoe K. “Rocky” Fawcett, president of the Lewis County IDA board and a county legislator from Lyonsdale, said the wind project “has already interviewed local people and hired some of them,” including a Copenhagen area subcontractor who employs all area residents.
Mr. Fawcett said the PILOT requires the developer to show an effort to secure local construction labor and will be required to file an annual report about their activities. A recent full-page ad in the Watertown Daily Times taken out by the union urging people to call the IDA on the issue was “totally out of the blue,” and only a handful of calls were received from it, he said.
Renewable Energy Systems, the Colorado company that is the primary contractor for the the 40-turbine project, thus far has hired 45 percent of workers from Lewis, Jefferson and Oneida counties, said Paul Judkins, a senior project manager with RES. “We’re certainly interested in getting as many local people to come work for us as we can,” he said.
Mr. Judkins said his company is not anti-union and does have a couple of union companies as subcontractors.
“When we go out to bid, we don’t discriminate against union,” he said.
The project, which this fall will entail primarily access road work, now has 45 to 50 workers, but that number should rise to 200 or more next year when turbines are brought in, Mr. Judkins said.
Protesters carried signs stating “RES Lowers Area Standards” and utilized a box truck with screens on each side to play a roughly minute-long video complaining about the issue in a constant loop.
Unfortunately for union members, IDA Executive Director Eric J. Virkler and two of the three other employees were out of town Tuesday, with only a secretary in the office that day.
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