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Contrasting views being painted on need for apprenticeship law County legislators to vote on veto override

As county lawmakers prepare to vote this week on whether to set worker-training requirements for county government construction projects, opponents and supporters of the law are actively making their cases.

The two sides in the debate paint contrasting views of the impact the law would have on contractors, local workers and project costs.

The state chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, a group of non-union contractors, is opposing the law with ads sponsored by its political action committee, petitions and meeting with legislators.

"We've done everything we could think of," said Scott Zylka, a local spokesman for ABC's New York state chapter.

The Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, composed of unions in the construction industry, is pushing hard in favor of it.

"We're cautiously optimistic" the law has enough votes to pass, said Brad Rybczynski, executive director of the trades group.

The legislature approved it in February, but County Executive Joel Giambra vetoed it earlier this month. The legislature needs at least 10 votes to override a veto. The law was initially approved 11-4.

The law would require construction contractors to set up apprenticeship programs certified by the state Labor Department in order to work on county government construction projects. The county has been the source of some big-ticket projects in recent years, such as the new Public Safety Center.

ABC claims the law will end up costing taxpayers more money, by reducing the number of contractors eligible to bid for county projects. It contends the restriction will also prevent many workers from having a chance to work on projects.

It cited a study prepared six years ago by Paul G. Carr, an engineering and management consultant, which claimed every bid lost costs taxpayers an additional 3.2 percent. On a $10 million project, ABC says, each potential bidder lost represents a $320,000 increase to taxpayers.

Rybczynski, of the construction trades group, says he does not believe the new law would drive up project costs, and he argues that contractors can receive state approval for an apprenticeship program in 30 to 45 days.

"Everybody has the opportunity to comply" to bid for projects, he said.

The trades group says state-certified apprenticeship programs aren't solely union territory: the state Labor Department says there are about 1,200 such programs, only 300 of which are union-operated. The trades group also says that five area municipalities have embraced their own measures requiring contractors on projects of certain sizes to have apprenticeship programs.

Another part of the county-level debate centers on participation of women and minorities on projects. Paul Brown, president of the trades group, said his organization's member unions have been working to diversify their ranks, and that apprenticeship programs create a pathway to jobs for minorities.

ABC argues that an apprenticeship program requirement would make it difficult for many small firms owned by women and minorities to compete for projects.

As Thursday's vote draws closer, Zylka said ABC is hoping to change at least two lawmakers' minds on the law. "The time between the veto and now has given legislators time to do more research," Zylka said.

Rybczynski said he is hopeful lawmakers will override the veto, arguing that the law will ensure better training and quality of life for the workers it affects.

"There's a dedication to the worker from the employer," he said.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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