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The NFTA has adopted a labor agreement for its $90 million airport expansion that guarantees labor peace at the non-union Westinghouse demolition project next door.

The $8 million demolition job was a target of organized labor, sparking a rally of union construction workers in April when Gov. Pataki ceremonially began the project.

Under the expansion Project Labor Agreement or PLA, Buffalo building trades will cooperate with projects "in close proximity" to the airport expansion, the agreement states.

"The AIP 2000 (airport expansion) project is going to encompass some of the same areas as the demolition," Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority General Counsel David M. Gregory said. Parking for the expansion will be built on the former Westy site.

With the expansion on a fast-track to add seven gates by December 2000, it's important that union and non-union employees working shoulder to shoulder get along, he said.

The expansion PLA gives contractors more flexibility than the controversial agreement that governed parts of the airport construction project in 1997, Gregory said.

However, non-union contractors said the new agreement remains flawed because it gives unions a say in their hiring decisions.

"I was really disappointed in the NFTA -- they caved in to the pressures of the unions," said Merit Construction Alliance board member Charles G. "Chip" Jones Jr., president of Wittburn Enterprises.

The PLA prohibits strikes and allows unions to choose some of contractors' employees. Non-union builders say the hiring rule makes them unwilling to bid, reducing
competition and driving up costs for taxpayers.

An analysis by Cashen Associates L.P. of Hauppague said the expansion PLA with its no-strike guarantee should save about $3 million in construction costs, Gregory said. The study is based on the assumption that union contractors will perform at least 90 percent of the work.

Demolition contractor Ontario Speciality Contracting is on schedule to finish tearing down the derelict Westinghouse plant by the end of November, Gregory said.

Labor friction over the demolition work began earlier this year, when the transportation agency denied the building trades' request for a PLA on the Westinghouse site. The demolition project didn't involve enough construction unions to warrant an agreement, the agency said.

A flashpoint for controversy in past years, the PLA issue has taken a low profile for most of 1999 as non-union construction firms shift their efforts to the political arena. Instead of pursuing a public information campaign, the Merit Construction Alliance has shifted to supporting friendly candidates for office, Jones said.

Among the cost-containing elements in the expansion PLA, Gregory said, are provisions that allow contractors to:

hire one worker from their "core" employee group for each worker chosen by the union. The original airport PLA allowed unions to choose a contractor's entire crew after splitting the first 10.

request by name workers referred by unions that don't operate a hiring hall.

eliminate shift premiums for second- or third-shift work and "industry promotion" fees usually included in union wages.

Construction union officials said the agreement is fairly standard.

"I expect the project will be completed on time and within budget," said James A. Voye, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 41.

Non-union firms shouldn't shut themselves out of bidding on PLA projects, he said.

The presence of a PLA helps eliminate violations of state prevailing wage law, which govern wages on public funded projects, said Thomas Burke, business representative of the Carpenters Local Union 9.

Although not finalized, the PLA is expected to be adopted by all parties, union and NFTA officials said. The NFTA has already awarded three expansion contracts of an expected dozen, representing $4.4 million of the project.

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