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Union says Wis.-based contractor taking wind project jobs

By DAVE GRAM
Associated Press

A windmill sits in front of Lowell Mountain in Lowell, Vt., recently. A union is complaining that many of the jobs involved in the construction of a 16-turbine wind power project in Lowell are going to out-of-state workers. Similar complaints are being voiced about the same Wisconsin-based general contractor on a project in New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A labor union complained Wednesday that large wind-power projects in northern Vermont and New Hampshire are bypassing local ironworkers, bringing in out-of-state crews, and undermining the projects’ hoped-for benefits for the local economies.

Ironworkers Local 7 leveled criticism at developers of a 16-turbine, $90 million project in Sheffield and a 33-turbine project in Dummer, N.H., and four neighboring unincorporated areas of Coos County.

“That’s not economic development. That’s not in the state’s best interest,” said Michael Morelli, Vermont business agent and industry analyst with Ironworkers Local 7, in citing two factors used by state regulators in approving a project.

Shawn Cleary, Local 7’s business agent in New Hampshire, expressed similar disappointment.

“They made a lot of promises about how this is going to bring local jobs to local people … We thought they would be fair and equitable to the people of New Hampshire,” Cleary said.

Boston-based First Wind is developing the Vermont project; Brookfield Renewable Power Inc., based in Toronto, Ontario, is developing the project in New Hampshire. RMT, based in Madison, Wis., is the general contractor for both.

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First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said his company hired RMT because of its expertise and track record. He said the company has worked on several other projects for First Wind. He said the company also hired several Vermont-based subcontractors for parts of the project including building roads and tower sites and their concrete foundations.

Brookfield had no immediate comment Wednesday.

RMT spokeswoman Barbara Robins said the company uses local subcontractors to do the less specialized parts of a wind power project, but when it comes to putting up towers more than 400 feet tall and attaching turbines to them, that requires people with extra training.

“When it comes to some of this higher-end work, we do bring people from out-of-state. It’s very specialized and technical,” she said.

Cleary said the union suggested RMT might want to bring in its own people to do 25 percent of the work to keep its “comfort level” about having experienced people on the job, with 75 percent going to local hires. But “we were willing to talk to them about any type of agreement.”

He added, “They told me it’s too early to make a decision. It’s too early to make a decision. Then as of the last communication it was too late — the decision had already been made.”

Morelli said his union members effectively had been blocked from working on the project because RMT is bringing in a crew from Utah to do the work. Morelli said he hoped the company’s decision could be changed as the project progresses.

“We trying to shame them into doing the right thing” — hiring local ironworkers, he said.

Valerie Rickert, deputy commissioner at the Vermont Department of Labor, said state law does not prohibit a company like RMT from bringing in out-of-state workers.

“We’d be glad to have our regional manager up there (in the department’s Newport office) reach out to this company and say ‘We’re here to help you fill your work force.’ They could say thanks, but no thanks,” Rickert said.

She said the Newport office’s job placement service had landed two workers on the Sheffield project. She said one is a security guard; she did not know the job position of the other.

During Vermont Public Service Board hearings on the Sheffield project, an economist hired by First Wind told the board the project would likely generate 83 jobs during the construction phase.

Lamontagne said that as of Wednesday more than 100 people were working on the project, and that number was expected to peak at 160 to 170 before the work is completed later this year.

Ironworkers Local 7 is formally known as the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental & Reinforcing Iron Workers, AFL-CIO.

More from wind projects around Wisconsin

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5 comments

  1. Irwin Fletcher

    Note to the union: Perhaps you need to concede on compensation. It is a competitive world. If someone else can produce the same thing for a lower cost, they will be hired.

    Until organized labor wakes up, they will continue to whither on the vine. In the mean time enjoy the June 5% boost in compensation. Too bad too many members will be sitting on the bench to be able to collect it. Hey, as long as the dues keep flowing in, that’s all that matters.

  2. Irwin,
    You don’t seem to remember that many contracted-out state services and projects end up costing taxpayers far more than in-house work. This includes services from corrections to IT to foster care administration to education. ‘Private, non-union’ rarely equates to cost savings to states. What it does do is line the pockets of corporations with ‘profits’ (created directly by tax coffers) and depress wages and benefits of the workers doing the work. Privatizing rarely saves money for the state and rarely creates better efficiencies and effectiveness of programs. If anything, just the opposite.

    There is such a thing as the public good and that is what federal, state and local governments are mandated to provide. Privatizing these services means that corporate insterests, the need to make a profit, comes before providing for the public good. Unions exist to help assure that employees are not forgotten when corporations determine their distribution of wealth to themselves (the corporate officers) and their shareholders. Workers do have the right to negotiate with employers and should be able to do so not just individually, but as a group. If this lends them some basis of power from which to negotiate that is just and fair since the owners/corp. officers negotiate with employees from a base of power. Bringing some level of equality to the negotiating table is what unions provide. Allowing corporations or governments to undercut fairly negotiated compensation packages through outsourcing or privatizing or whatever you want to call it, in the end simply undercuts everyone’s wages and benefits and boosts corporate profit without regard to its effects on the overall economy. We see this over and over again.

  3. The contract goes to the lowest qualified bidder.

    Why should I train a few local folks, who are here for 1 job only, when I already have a fully trained crew who is with me for the long haul?

    This is specialized work. When it comes time to get the job done, the crew hits the ground running, not waiting to get trained then go to work.

    And besides, the union is whining now. As an ABC member we’ve been yelling, screaming, legislating for years for equality. How does it feel now Local 7?

    Cruel and mean? No. Just stating facts.

  4. im a union millwright looking to get involved in wind turbines. Im a third year apprentice and have worked on some gas turbines. I would love to travel and get involved with wind energy. I guess i am just asking how to get involved or who to contact. All i am looking for is a shot and i feel i will be able to prove my worth. Can someone point me in the right direction how to get started i would be very appreciative.

  5. “During the Vermont Public Service Board hearings on the Sheffield project, an economist hired by First Wind told the board the project would likely generate 83 jobs during the construction phase. Lamontagne said that as of Wednesday more than 100 were working on the project. . . ”

    How many are Vermonters?

    I would think that the Vermont Public Service Board should have considered this aspect prior to any approval of the project.

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