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Labor union says wind projects aren’t using local workers

Firm cites need for special training

By Dave Gram
Associated Press / May 19, 2011

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MONTPELIER — A labor union complained yesterday 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,’’ Cleary said. “. . . We thought they would be fair and equitable to the people of New Hampshire.’’

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.

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 yesterday.

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 by yesterday, 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.