SALAMANCA Union leaders representing more than 5,000 Western New York construction workers wrote strongly worded letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to settle disagreements with the Seneca Nation of Indians and start the $28.5 million reconstruction of 11.5 miles of the Southern Tier Expressway here.
The letters came from top officers of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, Local 276, with 2,475 members; the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 17, with 1,974 members; the Laborers' International Union of North America, Local 621, 356 members; and the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers, Local 6, with 335 members.
"We are extremely pleased that union leaders representing the skilled professionals our Nation has worked with, under our construction rules, for many years are supporting the Nation's stance on this disagreement," Nation President Robert Odawi Porter said. "We want these tradespeople working, as soon as possible, to repair and rebuild this section of highway and end the unsafe conditions that exist there. We agree: Let's get moving."
Alan Pero, supervisor of IUOE Local 17 wrote to the governor to "express deep concern" about the project's status and said his workers are "collateral damage" in the state's disagreement with the Nation. He affirmed that the state's original bid documents included provisions for the winning contractor to work under Nation rules in place for almost 20 years and asked why state transportation officials subsequently rejected those rules when they were already in the bid.
"The State's refusal to abide by the contract terms has brought the project to a grinding halt, with devastating impact to the Western New York community," Pero wrote. "This large public works project would provide quality employment to hundreds of workers in the community as a result of the compounding effect of every dollar spent on the construction project. The resulting effect is the ability for these workers to provide sustenance for their families."
Daryl Bodewes, business agent for Carpenters Local 276 urged similar action.
"The stretch of road on I-86 is in deplorable condition and is in desperate need of repair. That section of road goes through the Seneca Nation of Indians [territory]. We support the project and we support the Seneca Nation and we are asking you to please find a way to work with the Seneca Nation to keep this job a reality. The road desperately needs work and I am sure, knowing the leaders of the Seneca Nation, an amicable solution can be achieved by both parties," Bodewes said.
The union leaders joined U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, in writing letters to Gov. Cuomo, urging quick state action on repairing the expressway.