AP NEWS

Harbor Yard Amphitheater workers seeking appropriate wages

December 16, 2018

Construction workers building Bridgeport’s new concert amphitheater say they are being stiffed on their paychecks, and the Department of Labor agrees with them.

In a letter to the city’s economic development department, state labor officials said the contracting agency of the Harbor Yard Amphitheater — which according to the project contract is developer Howard Saffan — broke the law by not applying prevailing wage requirements when putting the project out to bid.

Saffan did not return several calls for comment.

The prevailing wage statute provides contractors for large-scale projects involving public funding with an assigned wage rate and scheduled payroll.

Bridgeport and developer Howard Saffan are splitting the amphitheater’s $15 million price tag.

That wasn’t the case when construction of the concert venue got started, according to the letter from the DOL, which stated that developers and the city failed to request a prevailing wage pay rate schedule or include it in the bid specifications.

“Looks like a 50-50 relationship; what you just read fits the classic definition of a public works project. Public funds are in place, it’s a public project that will benefit the public,” said Thomas Wydra, director of the Wage and Workplace Standards Division for the state Department of Labor

Both city official and developers should have been aware of the law, Wydra said.

“Both should be aware of it, especially for a project of this scope,” he said. “There should be an understanding of what laws are in place to comply with. ... Quite frankly, they could’ve just simply reached out to us at the Department of Labor, and talked about the project, talked about the resources that are being used and asked us for a letter of determination.”

Because construction of the venue hasn’t been going on long, Wydra said the city wasn’t penalized. Instead, the DOL cited the statute and issued a prevailing wage rate schedule that contractors and developers must adhere to. The DOL will also conduct unannounced site inspections during the construction process to ensure payroll is being handled, he said.

City officials and developers have not yet notified Wydra or the DOL of any actions being made to resolve the issue, which was another request in the letter, he said.

Mixed signals

From the beginning, development of the amphitheater — the closed minor league baseball park — was supposed to be a public-private partnership between the city and Saffan, according to the development and operating agreement the City Council approved in 2017. Both parties were to invest $7.5 million into the project.

But when workers questioned developers and contractors about the lack of what they felt was appropriate pay, union representatives said they were told that the project didn’t trigger the prevailing wage statute.

“If you talk with the people and companies that are here, they are claiming the project is private, so we are bringing attention to the fact that taxpayer’s money is being issued into a private development and that it should be prevailing wage rate,” said David Jarvis, organizer for the New England Regional Carpenters Council.

While the workers have sought answers from developers and officials, none have been offered, according to Ted Duarte, senior organizer for the NERCC

“Typically, whenever there is public money involved with any project, that triggers prevailing wage,” Duarte said. “That’s not the case over here and we asked the question ‘why not here? What’s so special about this particular project? What’s the deal behind this particular project that they feel does not trigger prevailing wage?’”

Wait and see

Not all union reps are up in arms over the prevailing wages question.

Pete Carroll, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 488, has opted to see if Saffan rectifies the situation.

“I have a good relationship with Howard and I will speak to him about it and he said he would be happy to meet with all the trades, so that’s how I left it,” said Carroll. “If somebody says they are going to meet with us, at least give them the opportunity to come through and explain their side, and if you don’t like it then you can do what you got to do.”

The issue is also a politically sensitive one for Mayor Joe Ganim, who will likely seek the support of labor unions when he runs for re-election in 2019.

Ganim, who was endorsed by organized labor in his 2015 campaign, angered some union members last year, including Carroll, when he declined to require they be hired as part of the city’s deal with a New York City company to redevelop the shuttered downtown theaters.

Changes

After the DOL notified the city about its wage practices, a new wage sheet was issued for the project, Jarvis said. But while the new scale bodes well for workers moving forward, Jarvis said he also was concerned over the bids received for the project.

“It’s possible that someone bid less than prevailing wage and could be on the hook for the money now that it’s applied to it,” Jarvis said. “Say they (contractors) bid it at half the prevailing wage, they could end up eating that or losing money on the job because they were not aware of the prevailing wage (requirement) when they did it or lose all their profit or what they thought was going to be their profit.”

Though Saffan was unavailable for comment regarding the amphitheater, the city’s economic development department released a statement that said Bridgeport’s investment in the project was expected to go toward paying workers prevailing wages.

“In all respects, the city desires to ensure that its $7.5 million is employed in a manner to require the greatest public benefit to workers and minority subcontractors,” the statement reads. “The developer, who controls the work of the project, has made assurances to spend the city’s investment in the manner required by the development agreement and has agreed to be the project fiduciary as to the expenditure of all public monies.”

Jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly