Unions workers urge 'yes' vote on Coliseum

Business agent John Shepard talking to Pamela and

Business agent John Shepard talking to Pamela and her father Edward Yeznich while handing out leaflets during a labor walk to support the Nassau Coliseum referendum. (July 23, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Sweat dripping from their heat-ravaged brows, John Shepard and Anthony Ciano knocked on doors Saturday in Valley Stream, preaching a simple message to anyone who'd listen: Vote "yes" on Aug. 1.

The pair, members of the District Council of Painters and Allied Trades, were among roughly 100 union workers who spent the morning walking throughout Nassau County, urging passage of a referendum to borrow up to $400 million to build a new Nassau Coliseum and minor-league baseball park.

Some of the participating union members worked all week on construction sites. Others, like Ciano, 60, of Valley Steam, are unemployed and view the Coliseum plan as a chance to get working again.

"We're grasping at what we can get," said Ciano, who has been out of work for most of the past year. "The Coliseum is all we have right now."

Unemployment in Nassau's construction industry hovers around 30 percent. County officials say a new arena will create 1,500 construction jobs.

"This project will mean $400 to $500 million in additional work," said James Castellane, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

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For the second consecutive week, the unions targeted members of other organized labor groups, in both the public and private sectors.

Most of the residents visited Saturday embraced the project, but only a few were well-versed on the particulars.

While critics argue the project should be privately financed and will raise Nassau's already record-high property taxes, some said they would be willing to pay a little more to get the local economy moving.

"I don't mind spending an extra $50 per year," said Edward Yeznach, a former groundskeeper at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale. "I can't see anything negative about the project."

The unions will be canvassing again next Saturday, the weekend before the vote.

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