Local unions pushing fairlife to sign project labor agreement

Local unions push Fairport to sign project labor agreement

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WEBSTER, N.Y. — Work is ramping up at the site in Webster where fairlife will build a nearly 750,000-square-foot dairy production facility — but at the moment, the company isn’t using union contractors.

To qualify for state and local tax breaks and incentives, any development project in Monroe County must use local labor. But finding enough of it is no small task.

“It’s good for the community, there’s $4 billion of other projects in the Rochester area all around the same time, there’s certainly been a lot of pressure on specialized trades,” says Ajay Kochhar, the president, and CEO of Li-Cycle. Li-Cycle recently halted construction on its $750 million Rochester hub due to cash issues.

Often companies that might not initially plan to use local union labor have to switch to it, and that’s what happened to Li-Cycle. “As the project progressed, they used more of our contractors. Is there an elevated cost? Yes, there is, I’m not going to say there is not but the quality difference to me is night and day,” says Grant Malone, president of the Rochester Building and Construction Trades Council.

For Li-Cycle, the cost of the labor was unmanageable. “If that was the starting line then maybe we would have done it a little differently, but things evolved as the project went on,” says Kochhar, “so, we are where we are now and I think the question is going to be how to rebase.”

Malone believes companies working on projects this large wouldn’t have to recalculate costs if they negotiated a project labor agreement (PLA) at the start, “I believe if we would have done that, that project over at Li-Cycle would still be underway,” he says. And that’s why the trades council is pushing fairlife to meet with it as work begins on the new dairy production facility.

“The union contractor is going to be a little more expensive, but the skill level and the productivity are outstandingly different and there’s also cost savings that we can negotiate, anywhere from 4-10% of the project to make up the difference in the cost between union and non-union,” Malone says, “so, there’s a lot that goes into a PLA and my frustration here is I didn’t get a chance to explain that to Coca-Cola/Fairlife so we can help them be successful.”

Malone says if the unions have to come in down the road, it’s more expensive and dependent on what other projects are going on. “With what’s happened here with Li-Cycle, they’ve disenfranchised us and the local contractor base, there’s no more confidence in Rochester with Li-Cycle — I’ll be honest with you, when they come back it’s going to be tough,” Malone says.

In a statement, a spokesperson for fairlife tells News10NBC, “fairlife is committed to hiring 100% local labor to build its new production facility in Webster, NY with some potential exceptions due to expertise or labor availability. We will follow a fair and equitable process during all contract evaluations and selection processes, with contractors who employ both union and non-union labor considered. fairlife and The Coca-Cola Company are committed to diversity and will continue to work in good faith to hire subcontractors that are reflective of the region’s community, as well as welcome the use of apprentices onsite.”