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Jimmy Castellane, head of the Long Island Building Trades Council, did not attend a Suffolk legislative committee hearing last week, but it was no secret he strongly opposed appointment of former Presiding Officer Paul Tonna as a new Industrial Development Agency member.
During the hearing, it became clear Castellane called lawmakers opposing the appointment because Tonna has worked for about six years as a consultant on intergovernmental issues for mega-developer Jerry Wolkoff. Castellane is upset that Wolkoff has balked at making his $4 billion Heartland project a union job. However, backing Tonna at the meeting were about a half dozen labor leaders, including William Duffy of Operating Engineers Local 138.
What makes the standoff unusual is that Castellane has said he is about to step down as head of the council and Wolkoff is working with the Islip IDA, not the county’s. Though his deal for tax breaks is up. the developer and the town have reached a tentative deal for renewal.
Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), a friend of Tonna's, said the legislature doesn't want to be put in the middle of the squabbling. “This body likes to see labor peace on projects and will do everything in our power to see local people employed . . . We don’t want to see this become Wisconsin and don’t want to have a precedent set here.”
Tonna said he's ”always been an advocate for local unions.” But he said IDA’s have no authority to force firms to use union labor. “I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep,” he said.
In the end, Tonna’s appointment went through on a unanimous committee vote and the full legislature will take up the issue on Tuesday. Castellane did not return calls for reaction on the outcome of the meeting.