State Unions Train Their Fire on a Republican in Erie

ALBANY—While they’re pushing for legislative action in Albany, the coalition of unions advocating a bill that would require higher wages at publicly financed construction projects is fighting a side battle in Erie County.

The labor groups, led by SEIU 32BJ, are targeting Erie County Executive Chris Collins.

At the beginning of the month, Collins, a Republican, introduced a resolution in the Democratically controlled Erie County legislature that would have allowed financing for not-for-profit organizations to proceed through a subsidiary of the county’s Industrial Development Authority—the Industrial Land Development Corporation—rather than the IDA itself. (Legislation authorizing IDAs to issue bonds on behalf of nonprofit groups expired on January 31, 2008. Like most things that require authorization in Albany, renewal has not been an easy matter.)

Democrats amended the resolution to include a provision requiring a prevailing wage for workers on such construction projects—this is something unions like 32BJ have been pushing hard, and it has also been a sticking point in Albany—and Collins began lobbying legislators to adopt his version of the measure, including a radio campaign and robocalls.

Democrats passed the resolution—with the prevailing wage clause—on Friday. Collins controls the ILDC, and is sitting on the measure. Now the unions are striking back.

“Collins wants to kill reform legislation,” their radio ad says. “Why is he against requiring companies that get tax breaks to pay their workers a decent wage?”

Eugenio Villasante, a spokesman for 32BJ, said that $10,000 $15,000 will be spent on the radio time and on mailers that attack Collins, a former business executive, for taking campaign contributions from business groups. (Collins and others opposed to the prevailing wage provisions say they’re job-killing.)

The attack could draw blood against a man who is hoping to reinvigorate Republican efforts locally—Collins is involved in efforts to win Republican control of the Legislature this year—as he explores the possibility of a statewide run.

Chris Grant, Collins’s chief of staff, said that “anytime the special interests and status quo attack, it’s a strong indication that you are doing something right.”

The State Legislature adjourned without acting on IDA reauthorization. The issue is expected to come up when lawmakers return.

State Unions Train Their Fire on a Republican in Erie