Workers in Western New York are more productive and less strike-prone than their peers in other parts of the nation, according to a new study from researchers at Cornell University.
Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations is set to release the results of its eight-month study today, providing an in-depth look at the region's private-sector labor force.
"We tend to keep our advantages hidden," said Lou Jean Fleron, director of the school's Western region and chief author of the study. "People believed we had a strong advantage here, (and) that was confirmed."
In a survey of 369 employers, 63 to 69 percent said the regional work force is more productive than sites elsewhere, according to highlights of the study. Five percent said productivity is lower here. The telephone survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
In addition, an analysis of federal strike data show that less than 1 percent of contract negotiations here result in strikes, below the national average, Fleron said. The results should provide a counterweight to Western New York's reputation as a high-tax, high-cost region, economists said.
"Anecdotally, a lot of people say the work force in Buffalo is very productive," said Richard Deitz, a regional economist at the Federal Reserve in Buffalo. "When you try to communicate that outside the region, you need hard evidence."
The results come against the backdrop of the Buffalo teachers strike, which is putting a national spotlight on area labor relations. However, the study focused on private-sector employers, not people on government payrolls.
"I don't know if this (strike) is necessarily going to dilute the message" of the study, said Phil Wilcox, coordinator of the Western New York AFL-CIO Economic Development Group. "You're always going to have little spats."
In addition, labor conditions in the private sector are what's important for corporations seeking a new site, said Dennis J. Donovan, managing director of site consultants Wadley-Donovan in New Jersey.
"If workers are productive and willing to work with management, that's important whether you're union or non-union," he said.
However, the region's high rate of unionization -- 27 percent of the work force, compared to the national average of 14 percent -- is a negative in the eyes of most corporate site selectors, Donovan said. Most companies hope to keep their new locations non-union, more for management flexibility than to reduce labor costs, he said.
The Cornell study disputes the notion that a unionized work place is an impediment to high productivity. It examines several area employers -- mostly unionized -- that are achieving top productivity through good union-management relations. Unions encourage worker input, which can be an important ingredient in raising productivity, Fleron said.
Outokumpu American Brass in Buffalo, where 75 percent of the work force is unionized, is the company's most productive site, president Warren Bartel said. The site, one of those examined in the study, won a production task away from a sister plant in Kenosha, Wis., in 1998.
"The Steelworkers presence in our company . . . is a positive competitive advantage," Bartel said.
The 97-page study will be released at an event today co-sponsored by the AFL-CIO Economic Development Group and Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, the industry-backed development organization whose goal is 50,000 new jobs. The presentation is set to begin at 4 p.m. at the Rich Renaissance, 1 West Ferry St. Funding for the study came from a $70,000 state legislative grant.