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New Bills stadium, New Jobs But Not Everyone Wins

ORCHARD PARK, NY (WKBW) — The new Bills stadium will bring 10,000 new construction jobs to Western New York something that sounds good to Gary Swain, business manager of the Local 17 Union of Operating Engineers.

"I think that's great,” Swain said. “It's going to put a lot of people to work, people that live and breathe in the communities we're in."

He estimated, if this is a three-year project, 15 of his union members would make a combined $3.8 million over 100,000 hours worked.

"They're all excited because that just means work for our members,” Swain said.

But the project labor agreement is not good news for everyone. President of Associated Builders and Contractors Empire State Chapter, Brian Sampson, said this could take away opportunities from independent contractors and non-union laborers.

"Its super frustrating,” Sampson said.

Sampson said the majority of construction workers throughout the five counties of Western New York are non-union.

"You're telling 80% of the very skilled, highly trained workers that they're not going to be able to work on that project,” Sampson said.

Sampson said the project labor agreement effectively says a majority of workers must be from the union, which he said discourages non-union shops from bidding on the project.

Channel 7 followed up with the county executive's office for clarification on the job break down and they said it will be all union labor.

"It's going to be a small percentage that aren't in the union of the 10,000 jobs,” Sampson said. “And it's going to be likely out of state people anyway."

"I don't think they can say it's going to be strictly union workers,” Swain said. “But it would limit the jobs there if that was the case."

Sampson said he believes it would be best to move forward with no project labor agreement.

“The best bid should win the job regardless of affiliation,” Sampson said. “If that's a union contractor, fantastic, if it’s not, that's okay too."

This news story ran on Buffalo's WKBW ABC 7 website, 3/30/22

Agreement in Place to Build $1.4 Billion Buffalo Bills Stadium in Orchard Park

New York state, Erie County and the Buffalo Bills have reached an agreement on a $1.4 billion stadium deal that will keep the team in Western New York for 30 years and be the largest-ever taxpayer contribution to an NFL stadium.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced a plan for $850 million in public funding on Monday, not long after NFL owners approved a $200 million loan to Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula. The Pegulas are expected to contribute the rest of the cost, which equates to about $350 million.

The public contribution — $600 million from New York and $250 million from Erie County — is expected to be the largest-ever public investment for an NFL facility.

“I went into these negotiations trying to answer three questions — how long can we keep the Bills in Buffalo, how can we make sure this project benefits the hard-working men and women of Western New York and how can we get the best deal for taxpayers?” said Gov. Kathy Hochul in a statement. “I’m pleased that after months of negotiations, we’ve come out with the best answers possible — the Bills will stay in Buffalo for another 30 years, the project will create 10,000 union jobs and New Yorkers can rest assured that their investment will be recouped by the economic activity the team generates.”

Poloncarz, during a local announcement Monday, noted that the Bills will also be responsible for any project cost increases.

“We have cost certainty with regards to Erie County and New York State because the Buffalo Bills will be responsible for all cost overruns, unless such cost overruns are created as a result of the inaction or action by county government or state government,” Poloncaz said. “Don’t anticipate that to happen, because we are going to get this deal done and all the items that are required and associated with it.”

The announcement comes after months of behind-closed-doors negotiations and speculation.

The new stadium will be built across the street from the current one in Orchard. It will be an open-air facility with a minimum of 60,000 seats. Poloncarz says the new stadium will be built with a playing surface wide enough to accommodate other sports, including soccer.

“The Bills were very interested in other uses,” he said. “They understand that the facility, the current stadium, cannot be used for soccer because of its size. And I know that if you look at what’s the fastest growing sport in the United States, it’s soccer. I’m not certain that they will ever consider an MLS team or something like that. But if we could even get an international friendly, USA playing another country or some other team coming in, that would be great. It would be additional revenue for the community, additional sales taxes and the like. So the team and the exact language is multi-use outdoor sports.”

Once the stadium is completed, the facility will be owned by the Erie County Stadium Corporation, a state-level entity. Poloncarz anticipates Highmark Stadium will be demolished to become parking space. Other existing facilities including the fieldhouse, administrative and training facilities will also become state property and be negotiated into the new 30-year lease. He also says that agreement includes terms that secure the franchise’s stay in Western New York.

“There will be included a non-relocation agreement prohibiting the team from moving. If the team was to be allowed to move by a court of law, the team must pay back to Erie County Stadium Corporation and Erie County government its contributions in full for the construction of the new stadium during the first 15 years. And then it declines for the final 15 years,” he said. “And New York State can require the new stadium to actually be demolished by the Bills. These are strong terms to ensure that the team never moves. As I said, I feel very confident that once we negotiate and sign off on all the other documents, this team is going to be here through at least the rest of my lifetime.”

Those documents and other required approvals, Poloncarz said, are due to be completed by September 1. The funding announced Monday will be subject to approval from both state and county lawmakers.

Some, including the Buffalo NAACP and a fan group called “Bills in Buffalo,” had called for a new stadium to be built in downtown Buffalo. They argued building downtown as opposed to the suburbs would have a greater economic impact.

However, a state-commissioned study released in November found building a downtown stadium would cost an extra $750 million because of the need to acquire land and upgrade infrastructure.

Hochul said she plans to push for the state’s share in the 2022-23 budget, which is due Friday. Erie County lawmakers have previously expressed concern about being asked to approve a stadium deal “at the last minute.”

News of the agreement drew praise from the group Business Backs Buffalo Football, a coalition of local business leaders who argued that the Buffalo Bills are an essential economic engine for the region.

“I think from a macro level, no other community in the NFL has arguably benefited as much as as Buffalo has from having an NFL team,” said Matt Davison, chair of BBBF. “We’re the second smallest market in professional sports, so everyone expected there to be more public money than you would see in a large market like Los Angeles or Dallas or Las Vegas. So that’s somewhat of a given. Yet, at the same time, I think the impact of the team is just so noticeable from an entertainment perspective, from a national exposure perspective for a small market town, and then beyond that, the economic impact and the philanthropy.

“You can see the amazing things that Josh Allen and the team have done for places like Oishei Children’s Hospital. You can see the immense impact that the dollars from Ralph Wilson’s sale of the team to Terry and Kim Pegula have meant to this community. Hundreds of millions of dollars pouring back in. I think that’s all sort of glossed over as people talk about the current subsidy going into the deal. But the reality is, we’ve seen those dollars and then some, from a taxpayer perspective, just from the sale of the team and from some of those recent philanthropic activities.”

The announcement also drew criticism by Associated Builders and Contractors Empire State, which represents non-union contractors and merit based construction companies.

ABC Empire State chapter president Brian Sampson released the following statement: “It’s no surprise that Gov. Hochul and County Executive Polancarz (sic) have once again turned their back on the more than 70 percent of the local construction community that choose not to be affiliated with unions. We’re used to them picking winners and losers in this industry; however, we’re surprised that both Pegula Sports and Entertainment and the National Football League agreed to the use of a Project Labor Agreement for the new Bills stadium. The PLA will sideline thousands of loyal Bills fans and supporters who have passionately supported the team through good times and bad. We didn’t expect Bills’ ownership and the NFL to turn their back on those fans. Apparently, there is actually a price for loyalty.

“The good news, if people choose to embrace it, is that loyalty is a two-way street. It’s time for the corporate sponsors and season ticket holders who oppose a PLA to send a message back to Bills’ ownership and the NFL. Rather than give money to people that don’t support you and your family, spend your sponsorship and season ticket money at local establishments on Sundays. Supporting local businesses is a great way to kickstart our recovery from COVID while showing loyalty to those places that have supported our youth sports teams and charitable campaigns for many, many years.

“This is a sad day for the most loyal fanbase in the NFL. Shame on Pegula Sports and Entertainment and the NFL for letting New York’s government officials strongarm them into a PLA, sidelining hardworking Western New York construction workers and taxpayers.”

This news story ran on WSKG's website, an affiliate of PBS, 3/28/22

ABC: Budget Plans Could Raise the Cost of Construction in New York

A prominent construction industry organization is raising concerns with the state budget proposals released this week by the state Legislature over concerns the proposals could increase the cost of projects in New York.

The Associated Builders and Contractors pointed to the proposed expansion of prevailing wage measures to projects that are not traditionally included, as well as requirements for project labor agreements that are meant to favor labor unions.

But labor organizations have generally praised the budget plans advanced this week as a way of helping working-class New Yorkers amid ongoing economic uncertainty. New York has one of the highest unionized workforces in the country, bucking a national trend of falling membership in a union.

The state budget is due at the end of the month.

Lawmakers want to boost spending for key infrastructure projects in order to improve roads, bridges and highways in the state. At the same time, lawmakers envision many of these projects being done by a unionized workforce.

"While we welcome a major investment to improve the state’s failing infrastructure, mandating Project Labor Agreements will keep the more than 70 percent of the construction workforce that is non-union on the sidelines," said Tanner Schmidt, the group's public affairs manager. "When mandating PLAs – allowing only a small portion of the industry to work – our elected officials are choosing to delay many of these much-needed projects, like road and bridge repairs, which negatively impacts the quality of life for all New Yorkers."

Prevailing wage measures, meanwhile, could increase project costs by as much as 25%, Schmidt said.

“These harmful mandates cannot be part of the state’s final enacted budget," he said. "New Yorkers need their elected representatives to stand up in opposition and make themselves heard. Those supporting these detrimental measures need to take a serious look at the harm they will inflict on the state’s workforce and its taxpayers and reconsider.”

Labor leaders have generally praised the budget plans released this week by the Legislature.

New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, however, praised the legislative proposals for focusing on child care as well as backing climate change-related projects that will be driven by union jobs.

George Gresham, the president of the politically powerful 1199SEIU of service workers, pointed to proposals meant to increase wages for home care workers as "critical investments" following two years of the COVID pandemic.

"From advancing Fair Pay for Home Care to increasing funding for safety-net hospitals, these budget bills provide the resources necessary to stabilize a healthcare system that has faced unprecedented challenges these past years," he said.

This news story ran on Spectrum News's website, in their "State of Politics" section, 3/17/22

An ‘Opportunity’ for Bad Economic Policy

Recently, Patrick Purcell, Jr. of the New York State Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust and Assemblymember Karines Reyes authored an op-ed regarding the Roadway Excavation Quality Assurance Act (REQAA) and its potential to positively impact the environment, the economy, and the workforce. The piece -- “An Opportunity to Boost the Environment, Economy, and Workers” -- is concerning because the authors paint an inaccurate picture, hiding the hidden detail within the legislation, the use of Project Labor Agreements, that is at the center of what Mr. Purcell’s organization supports.

The full story paints a very different picture and will likely change the way readers feel about the REQAA. Mr. Purcell supports this policy and PLAs because they drive work to those he represents: a very small number of workers compared to the overall workforce in New York state.

He claims that the REQAA provides significant economic benefits and states that workers affected by this bill will “have the financial resources to patronize their hometown shops and restaurants.” This is where Mr. Purcell has left out important details.

The REQAA includes language within the bill that encourages the use of a Project Labor Agreement on these projects. A PLA is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement that requires the hiring of union workers. The issue here is not the employment of union workers, but the required use of them instead of opening the projects up to the entirety of New York state’s construction workforce.

More than 70% of the construction industry workforce in our state is not affiliated with a union. They work for open shop contractors, the majority being small businesses. The REQAA Mr. Purcell is so fond of, includes language that discriminates against the vast majority of the state’s construction labor pool by not allowing their employers to use them on projects under these provisions.

How can any policy that stomps on businesses and prevents the majority of a workforce from working be good for the state’s economy? The authors of the op-ed omitted some very important details in pushing this legislation.

And, if it is not bad enough that the REQAA will bury businesses even deeper, consider this: when the labor pool is limited to less than 30% of the available workforce, but more workers are needed, they’ll be brought in from out of state. That doesn’t help a single worker or family in New York.

Additionally, the REQAA will ultimately hurt New York ratepayers who are already feeling the burden of some of the highest utility costs in recent years. Consumers will pay even more for utilities because, as studies show, the prevailing wage increases the cost of construction by up to 25%. It’s time for honesty: this is the reality when we force utility companies to pay more, they pass the added cost on to the ratepayers.

Instead of focusing on harmful policies, New York government should be figuring out how to cut costs for ratepayers. That can be done by lowering taxes we all have to pay on natural gas, broadband, cell phone service, electricity, and more.

Our elected officials have a responsibility to protect New Yorkers from harmful legislation while improving their quality of life. The REQAA does the opposite. It discriminates against most contractors in the state, prevents hundreds of thousands of workers and their families from benefiting from construction jobs their tax dollars are paying for, and it increases the cost of living in New York state. Our elected leaders should run far and wide from the REQAA.

Brian Sampson is president of The Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, part of a national construction industry trade association established in 1950 and founded on the merit shop philosophy. On Twitter @abcempirestate.

This Op-Ed by Chapter President Brian Sampson ran in the Gotham Gazette, 2/28/22

Despite Lifting NYC Restaurant Requirements, Mayor Adams Keeps Vaccination Mandate for Workers

You may not need proof of vaccination to eat inside a New York City restaurant, but Mayor Adams said Monday you’ll still need it to work.

During a news conference in the Bronx, Adams vowed to keep in place requirements that public and private employees be vaccinated for COVID — despite his earlier announcement that restaurant and bar patrons will soon no longer have to provide proof of vaccination status.

The Key to NYC requirements surrounding restaurants, bars, and gyms are set to expire on March 7 under Adams’ most recent COVID-related directive.

On Monday, Adams was asked to provide the scientific underpinning behind ending that Key to NYC requirement while keeping in place the vaccine mandates. He responded that he wants to “continue the trend” toward the city’s primary COVID goal: encouraging New Yorkers to get vaccinated.

“When we talk about the employee mandates, it is imperative for the businesses to continue to create a safe environment for their employees,” he said during an unrelated news conference in the Bronx. “When I sat down with the doctors — because I’ve always stated we’re going to go based on the science — they were clear. They said, ‘Eric, we could remove the Key to NYC that allowed gyms, restaurants, and others, but we need to keep in place the mandate for those who are in professional [settings], employees or workers. And that includes city workers as well.”

Hizzoner also suggested he isn’t concerned about the spread of COVID from tourists traveling from out of town once restaurant requirements are lifted, predicting that testing requirements outside the city will do the trick despite lower vax rates in other parts of the country.

The March 7 lifting of requirements is partly due to low COVID positivity rates and high vaccination rates in the Big Apple. But vaccination rates in other parts of the U.S. and worldwide lag behind New York’s.

When asked how the city will account for tourists once the lifting of requirements takes effect, Adams cited the provision in some foreign countries that travelers be tested before boarding flights.

“We want tourism back. Tourism is a major economic boost for us,” the mayor said. “Many people are leaving their countries to get on airlines, and they have to be tested or vaccinated upon boarding those airlines.”

Such rules don’t exist as blanket policy in the U.S., though. When asked specifically about the COVID travel requirements in other American cities, Adams didn’t specify which ones he believes have strong requirements, saying only that “many” do.

“Many of these locales have good rules in place that will ensure that we are not being reckless, but we’re being responsible,” he said.

This article by Michael Gartland ran in the Daily News, 2/28/22

Empire Chapter President, Brian Sampson Discusses The Devastating Impact of The New Prevailing Wage Bill

June 18, 2019

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What’s Pushing Prevailing Wage Into The ‘Big Ugly’

June 11, 2019

A lack of public hearings on the issue and the rush to get the bill passed by the end of session also means that final details of the bill will be determined behind closed doors, according to Brian Sampson, president of Empire Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. “The potential impact of this bill, as drafted, could stop economic development in parts of this state for a long time,” he said. “Why aren’t we talking about this bill more openly, and having more discussions and dialogue about it, instead of wrapping it up with a pretty little bow in the ‘Big Ugly?’”

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Union Requirement Inflates Cost of State Fair Bridge

May 23, 2019

A shortage of bids on the New York State Fairgrounds pedestrian bridge project will leave New Yorkers paying more, but getting less. When plans for the project were released with an accompanying project labor agreement (PLA), the playing field narrowed from 20 companies interested in the project to just two submitting bids, with the lowest bid coming in well in excess of $1 million over engineering estimates. Why the drastic decrease in competition and increase in costs? The answer can be found in three simple letters: PLA.

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Another Voice: Benefits Add Hidden Costs to Prevailing Wage Projects

May 22, 2019

Let’s not be fooled. Proponents of the expansion of prevailing wage are already doing great damage to taxpayers. They shouldn’t be allowed to ruin what little positive job growth we now have in New York.

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Trade War: Find Out How The Tariffs Are Impacting New York Businesses and Consumers

May 17, 2019

“What’s clear is that some contractors will have to deal with cost overruns that they can’t pass on to their customers,” said Brian Sampson, president of the Associated Builders & Contractors of New York.

“But in most cases, the increased cost of the tariffs will be passed on to customers resulting in more expensive construction projects or higher costs for capital goods.”

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