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IDA fields criticism from union, residents on proposed tax breaks 

Lufthansa is seeking tax breaks as it moves

Lufthansa is seeking tax breaks as it moves from a building in East Meadow, seen on Feb. 28, to one in Uniondale. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

At two public hearings on Monday, the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency received criticism from a union and a homeowners’ group about proposed tax breaks for the German airline Lufthansa and bottled water seller Nestle Waters.

A half-dozen members of Local 100 of the Unite Here union attended a public hearing on Lufthansa’s request for IDA tax breaks to move its Americas headquarters about 1 mile west from its current location on Hempstead Turnpike from East Meadow to Uniondale.

Local 100 and Lufthansa subsidiary LSG Sky Chefs are in contentious contract negotiations over wages and health insurance for 1,100 food service employees working at Kennedy Airport. Local 100 officials said many Sky Chefs employees earn New York State’s minimum wage and some have no health benefits, relying instead on Medicaid and other government assistance.

“I’m working very hard for little pay,” said Philippe Saint Jean, 32, a Sky Chefs warehouse worker, in an interview Monday at county hall in Mineola. “I’m having trouble supporting my family. The county shouldn’t give more money to Lufthansa.”

The airline is seeking a sales-tax exemption of up to $248,000 on the purchase of construction materials, fixtures and equipment for a new $5.7 million office at RXR Plaza, across from NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. About 220 employees will move to the new facility from 1640 Hempstead Tpke., the airline’s home since the early 1970s.

Local 100 president Bill Granfield, in a March 21 letter to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, said the IDA should “not reward Lufthansa with tax breaks until these workers are treated with the respect they deserve.” The airline’s current tax-break deal expires on Dec. 31.

Lufthansa attorney Arthur Molins said the airlines’ local office “has absolutely nothing to do with LSG Sky Chefs. Their headquarters is in Germany,” he said in an interview on Monday.

Sky Chefs spokesman David Margulies said it “values the hard work and dedication of our team members. Wages, as well as other benefits, including vacations, uniforms and company-provided meals, as well as health and welfare issues, are subject to the collective bargaining process that takes place directly between LSG Sky Chefs and the union. The issue you are asking us to address does not involve Lufthansa,” he said.

IDA chairman Richard Kessel said the agency will weigh all the feedback but “must be careful not to get caught in the middle of a dispute that the IDA has nothing to do with.”

He also said tax incentive deals for Lufthansa and Nestlé Waters are on the agenda for the IDA’s monthly board meeting, scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Mineola.

Earlier Monday in Oyster Bay Village, the civic group Residents for a More Beautiful Syosset said homeowners would be harmed by a proposal to give Nestlé Waters an additional 10 years of tax breaks on its distribution facility at 275-280 Oak Dr.

The company, which sells water under the Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Deer Park and Nestlé Pure Life brands, has been receiving tax breaks since 2008. It employs more than 100 people in Syosset.

“Homeowners can no longer afford to shoulder tax giveaways to giant corporations,” said Laura Schultz, president of the 200-member group. “It is time for corporations to break their addiction to these tax breaks.”

Daniel P. Deegan, a real estate attorney for Nestlé, said it would leave Nassau without additional tax breaks. “The goal is to try and keep the facility where it is, keep the jobs that are there,” he said.

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