Unions seek guarantees for construction jobs

An artist's rendering of the Ronkonkoma Hub, which An artist's rendering of the Ronkonkoma Hub, which could create a new downtown area in the town. Photo Credit: Handout

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Union representatives for building trades turned out in force at the Long Island Regional Planning Council's meeting Tuesday to press for guarantees that they said would create more job opportunities for local workers in regional development projects.

They told of seeing vehicles with out-of-state license plates at construction sites while many Long Island construction workers are out of work -- a "valid concern," said council chairman John D. Cameron.

"What's happening now is construction companies off Long Island are bidding aggressively for projects on Long Island, taking work away from Long Island companies," Cameron said.

Matt Norton, business agent for Local 638 of the Enterprise Association of Steamfitters, based in Queens, told the council that contracts calling for workers to be paid "prevailing wages" on many local projects don't necessarily translate into work for local construction workers.

For example, some of the representatives said, companies that win contracts may bring in workers from elsewhere, and such actions are not well monitored.

Norton and others cited Industrial Development Authority contracts, which govern such projects as the proposed Ronkonkoma Hub.

Norton and others among about two dozen union workers and retirees called for what they termed "apprenticeship language" in IDA contracts with developers to create more work opportunities for their members. Such language, Norton said, "means a career, it means a living wage [and] health care."

The discussion emerged as William Mannix, executive director of the Town of Islip's Industrial Development Authority, and Lisa Mulligan, chief executive of Brookhaven Town's IDA, appeared before the council requesting that the Ronkonkoma Hub be designated a project of regional significance.

Such a designation, Mannix said, would aid attempts to get federal grants and further raise public awareness of the project.

The hub proposal of the two towns is a transit-focused effort to turn blighted areas into retail, office space and housing along Brookhaven's 50-acre Ronkonkoma Hub and on Islip's MacArthur Airport corridor.

Before declaring the project regionally significant, Cameron asked for more information on the its timelines.

But council members appeared favorably inclined.

"It's a real testament to the leadership of both towns," said Paul Tonna, the council's vice chairman. "Really, this is the type of stuff we need."

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