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A labor dispute involving a $19 million modernization of the Bird Island Wastewater Treatment Plant could cause delays, the head of the Buffalo Sewer Authority warned Monday.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17 has set up pickets outside plant entrances, and union President Mark Kirsch said the protests will continue until the project is completed in late 2004 or early 2005.

The dispute involves a Syracuse contractor that is using both union and non-union workers on the job. Officials from CO Falter Construction Corp. had no comment Monday, but Sewer Authority General Manager Anthony A. Hazzan said the company came to terms with all unions except for the operating engineers. Picketing began last week.

"They've been harassing our employees and suppliers," Hazzan claimed. "We have some contractors who won't cross the picket line because they want to honor their union brothers."

The windshield of a vehicle approaching the entrance was broken in one incident last week, Hazzan said, adding police have been assigned to monitor the picketing.

The Sewer Authority has been trying to get negotiators from both sides to resolve the issue, Hazzan said. "If this job goes on longer than expected, the ratepayers will suffer. Let's put egos aside and think of the ratepayers."

Kirsch accused Falter Construction of hiring some out-of-town laborers, including non-union workers.

"We have enough unemployment here in Western New York. We don't need out-of-town people taking jobs," he said.

Kirsch said the operating engineers union has one standard agreement that contractors are expected to sign. "Either a (project) is all-union, or is non-union. It's one way or another. You can't play both sides," he said.

Kirsch said the project will utilize between four and eight operating engineers.

The modernization will include construction of a new 15,000-square-foot building and an improved grit removal system that will allow the treatment plant near the foot of West Ferry Street to trap more grit, sand and other debris.


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