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The Buffalo AFL-CIO's new Economic Development Group is seeking $75,000 in state funding for a study that it hopes will rebut the region's image as a bare-knuckled union town.

The group, which is working with the business-backed Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, obtained support from six Western New York assemblymen to fund the study. The Democratic representatives signed an Aug. 25 letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver supporting the study.

"I think there's an unfortunate reputation that Buffalo's a tough labor town," said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo.

While the city remains the home of strong unions, it is no longer a hotbed of union militancy, he said.

"I can't remember when we had a major strike -- it used to happen all the time."

Under the "Champions of Labor" study, researchers at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations would look at the region's strike patterns and interview area companies, said Phil Wilcox, coordinator of the AFL-CIO Economic Development Group. Completion is set for March.

The study will reflect what some unionized employers are saying -- that Western New York is a productive area, and that progressive unions are part of the reason, he said.

"Business listens to business," Wilcox said. "Of course, political leaders are going to say 'come on in, this is a great place to work,' but this is data-driven."

Employers like Buffalo China, Quebecor Printing and AlliedSignal are a few area companies that have benefited from progressive labor-management relations, he said.

The timing of the funding request is difficult, the state having recently passed its budget, Hoyt said. However, it should be possible to fund the study from discretionary funds available to leaders in the Legislature and Senate, and from the governor, he said.

"Each leader could put in a third -- they (the AFL-CIO group) are approaching all levels of government," said Hoyt, who has attended a meeting of the development group.

The report, published both in paper and on the Internet, should give economic developers ammunition to fight outdated views about Western New York's labor climate, Wilcox said. It could also serve to help companies and unions that are at odds to reach a more productive relationship.

For Assemblyman Robin Schimminger. D-Kenmore, the fact that the business group Buffalo Niagara Enterprise was working with the AFL-CIO helped draw his support. "That was a green light for me," he said.

Also backing the funding request were Democratic Assemblymen Arthur O. Eve of Buffalo; Paul A. Tokasz, Cheektowaga; Richard A. Smith, Hamburg, and Brian M. Higgins, Buffalo.

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