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FedEx project is targeted in Hamburg

Organized labor is pushing for more local workers on the construction of the FedEx distribution center in Hamburg, and a union member has filed a lawsuit contending that tax breaks for the project are illegal.

As bulldozers clear trees and level earth along the huge site on Route 5 just south of the Ford plant, supporters of the project say local workers are well represented at the $51 million project.

Sixteen of the 20 contractors are from Erie County, including the steel, electrical, concrete and foundation subcontractors, said Hamburg Supervisor Steven J. Walters.

“Clearly, it’s predominantly local labor that’s building this facility,” he said. “More importantly, when this project is done, it’s going to create 400 to 600 local jobs, and good-paying jobs.”

Labor supporters disagree, noting that the general contractor, Pike Co., is from Rochester.

“It’s his town,” Paul Brown, president of the Buffalo Building & Construction Trades Council, said of Walters. “Why wouldn’t he want 100 percent? They’re the ones giving up the money.”

It’s an issue also raised by State Sen. Marc C. Panepinto, D-Buffalo, who last week called on the Hamburg Industrial Development Agency to release information on the tax incentives.

Members of the trades picketed at the end of Lakeview Avenue after crews broke ground in March on the 317,000-square-foot building. Last month, the town abandoned Lakeview Avenue, with Councilman Michael P. Quinn Jr. voting against it because he said that would force pickets onto the busier Bayview Road. “It’s not a union/non-union issue,” Brown said. “As long as they’re local, that’s all we care about.”

The town IDA is considering a policy to require a certain number of workers on projects that get incentives to live in Western New York. “Almost every local IDA has a local-hire agreement,” Brown said.

The project is getting millions of dollars in tax breaks granted by the Hamburg IDA, but the exact amount is not known. The IDA did not have that number available Tuesday, but it includes a sales tax exemption on materials purchased for the building, mortgage tax abatement and a payment in lieu of taxes agreement.

FedEx will generate millions of dollars in revenue for the Town of Hamburg, Frontier School District and Erie County over the course of its 10-year payment in lieu of taxes.

“This is a very good project for the Town of Hamburg and Erie County,” Walters said, adding that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., “have personally intervened and gotten involved in this project.”

Pickets set down their signs after a member of Laborers Local 210 filed papers in State Supreme Court challenging the tax breaks and claiming the IDA did not comply with state law and its own regulations. Michael M. Kowalski, 38, of Hamburg, who brought the legal action, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 and earns a living as a construction laborer, according to court papers. He argues that the IDA, Hamburg Land Development Corp., FedEx and the company building and owning the property, JDC Hamburg, “failed to comply with nearly every requirement imposed by state law and agency regulation.”