By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON October 9, 2001 Although less than 100 people showed up at the Sullivan West high school construction site tour on Thursday in Lake Huntington, approximately a dozen union operating engineers decided to use the event as a chance to make their point.
Standing alongside the current entrance to the site off Route 52, the men all part of Local 825, International Union of Operating Engineers held signs that decried what they felt was the lack of local labor on the sitework currently in progress.
Apparently, they werent interested in having us work on this, said Jack Prisk, the unions Middletown-based business representative. So we just wanted to let people know what is going on.
Several, if not all, of the protesters were from Sullivan County and the Sullivan West Central School District and most work in Orange County or farther east.
Id like to work on this project, commented Steve Weston of Narrowsburg, who has 30 years of experience in the engineering trade. I thought they [the SW board] would use all local people, but theyre not trying. They should know the value of keeping the money at home. They want our vote, dont they?
Our kids want to leave here, added Fred Steffens, a 37-year resident of North Branch who has grandchildren in the school. They [the board] want us to spend our money here . . . but there isnt one person from that outfit [working at the site] paying one cent of their taxes here.
Not necessarily true, said school and construction officials.
Although he did not have exact breakdowns, Turner Construction Companys Luis Rodriguez, who is overseeing the building of the school, said virtually everyone employed by siteworker Leeward Construction of Honesdale, Pa. is local meaning both from Sullivan County, NY and Wayne County, Pa., he said.
SW Superintendent Michael Johndrow said that was his understanding as well, although he added that the bid process by which the non-union Leeward was awarded the sitework has certain limitations.
We dont have a choice to pick union or non-union, remarked Johndrow.
And theres the rub, said Rodriguez, who said hes seen this before.
They [the protestors] are a little upset that the union contractor didnt get the job, he explained. No one wanted to bid work out in this area. We did our best to make sure everyone had a fair chance to bid.
Their company came in with too high a bid, added Johndrow, saying Leewards bid was $2 million lower than the next lowest bid. I think they [the protestors] should talk to them [the union contractors].
And, he said, by law the district must accept the lowest responsible bid.
Prisk, however, said the district could have specified in the bid process that only companies willing to use labor exclusively from Sullivan County could participate. He said he had talked to Johndrow about such.
As competitive as our bids would need to be, I wouldnt want to limit it like that, Johndrow responded.
More bid awards are coming up for renovations and construction projects throughout the district, and both Johndrow and Rodriguez indicated they anticipated seeing local companies union ones included with local workers participating in the bidding process.