Bridgeport officials and developers of the new concert amphitheater are saying wage disputes over the project were due to miscommunication.
“Although it was never specified, the Harbor Yard Amphitheater, HYA, renovation was always intended to be a prevailing wage project,” said developer Howard Saffan in an email to Hearst Connecticut Media.
Tensions among construction workers building the amphitheater — the closed minor league baseball park — have apparently subsided, following confirmation that construction of the venue will, now, adhere to state law.
The Department of Labor notified the city’s economic development department this month that the project violated prevailing wage laws.
The prevailing wage statute requires contractors involved in big-ticket construction or renovations involving public funding use an assigned wage rate and DOL certified payroll for their workers.
A letter from state labor officials claimed that the contracting agency of the project — which according to the project contract is Saffan—failed to request a prevailing wage pay rate schedule or include it in the bid specifications.
While no penalties or fines were issued for the infraction, the project did receive a new wage sheet and certified payroll from the DOL. City officials and Saffan have acknowledged the questions raised by whistleblowers from the New England Regional Carpenters regarding the wage dispute.
“I don’t know if there was ever any doubt of that” said Mayor Joe Ganim of the project following the law. “(Saffan has) been paying prevailing wages and will continue to pay prevailing wages as will the city. If there is a certified payroll that needed to be done, that’s going to be done.”
The project was the result of a request for proposal that the City published last year to transform the former Bluefish ballpark into the concert venue, which has been heavily touted by the OPED and the Ganim in ongoing development downtown.
Saffan was the successful bidder.
From the beginning, the project 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.
Officials and Saffan broke ground on the amphitheater in July. In that time, organizers from the Carpenters Union said workers were told the project didn’t trigger the statute, sparking small protests.
Saffan said the wage issue is a manufactured one.
“Harbor Yard Amphitheater prevailing wage controversy was created by David Jarvis of the Carpenters Union,” Saffan said. “Notwithstanding the demolition of the former baseball stadium, construction of the amphitheater has yet to go to bid. Mr. Jarvis showed up on our doorstep protesting, sending threatening emails to myself and Live Nation on a daily basis, and subsequently inflated a rat and pig outside the venue.”
Saffan and officials suggest that workers have been getting paid prevailing wages though the project was never designated as such. Though the controversy has been resolved, Jarvis still has his doubts, particularly of Saffan, he said.
“I do believe as far as the city goes, they operate in the municipal market, so they know that. I do believe they are accurate on the city’s side, but I think Howard completely flipped,” Jarvis said.
“He changed course. I don’t think he really had intention of building it with prevailing wage. If you don’t advertise it then you don’t have to do it and you don’t have intent of doing it. To come back now when everybody is pushing back and say, ‘that’s what I meant to do,’ I find it really hard to believe,” Jarvis said.
Along with ensuring appropriate wages for workers, Jarvis said a lack of designation and prevailing wages stipulations could affect the amount that a contractor would bid on a project and affect their potential profits.
For contractors that are not aware that a project is under the prevailing wage statute, Jarvis said, they can bid lower than what they should for the development and end up having to eat the cost.
“They have to bid differently knowing that it’s prevailing wage,” Jarvis said. “A lot of them (contractors) will add a little bit more for paperwork and overhead because they now have to submit to a certified payroll system and they have to document every hour. They have to document every type of work that they did.”
The city’s economic development department is expected to meet with DOL to discuss and settle any further confusion, according to previous statements from OPED.