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Alcoa Picketer: ‘Do you think they’re going to spend their money here?’

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MASSENA - As picketers outside of Alcoa’s Massena West plant wrapped up their first full week of protests over the hiring of a Texas firm to complete the repairs on a roof damaged by fire this past March, one protester said he wants to know why there aren’t more people joining them.

“Nobody is listening to us,” David P. Rourke, of Akwesasne said. “We just had a solidarity parade on Monday with 1,500 people. Where are all those people?”

Mr. Rourke, who works for Murnane Building Contractors, Plattsburgh, is a member of the International Association of Bridge, Structural & Ornamental & Reinforcement Iron Workers Local 440. At first when their were rumors Alcoa wouldn’t hire local workers, he admitted to not being worried and not believing it, but once the decision to hire non-unionized workers that weren’t even local was made, union members sprung into action.

Mr. Rourke explained the union meets on the third Friday of each month, most recently meeting on Aug. 17, when union members discussed what they were going to do to protest the decision.

“We’ve got to stop it,” he said. “That’s money out of our pockets.”

While Mr. Rourke may not have a mortgage payment or children at home, he said many of the workers impacted by Alcoa’s decision do and are not working right now because of the decision made by Alcoa.

“That’s our job and we’re trying to get it back,” he said pointing toward the plant. “Alcoa and John Martin (Alcoa primary metals plant manager) don’t want to give them to us.”

While his children are grown and he doesn’t have a mortgage, Mr. Rourke said many of the other union members are being impacted far more than he is.

“A lot of the other guys have mortgages. They can’t sit at home and not work. They have children, and school has just started,” he said.

Local 440 Business Manager Robert J. Cole said as business manager it is his job to try and find work the members.

“I have 145 men who are all local,” he said. “My men are all local. All of the past years Alcoa has gone union with local workers. Union workers built that plant.”

Leading up to the project Mr. Cole, like Mr. Rourke, said he had no reason to believe his local workers would not be hired.

“Before this summer, we had a union contractor in there and were 95 percent certain we would get this job, but then in the 11th hour we were told we did not.”

Mr. Rourke said he wants to know how Mr. Martin can explain his decision to fellow members of the Regional Economic Development Council.

“How can he be in charge of economic development when he’s hiring people that aren’t going to spend their money here?” he asked. “Do you think they’re going to spend their money here? No, they’re going to take it back to Mexico or Texas.”

Explaining that quote, Mr. Rourke said he saw trucks carrying “about 25 Mexicans” driving into the plant.

“All I want to do is get the boys working again,” he said. “We’re the world-famous Mohawk Iron Workers, we should be in there.”

Gregory R. Lancette, president of the Central and Northern New York Building Trades Council, met with the picketers Friday morning and noted ironworkers from the area have worked on most of the high profile construction projects in the country.

He said many of the existing buildings at the Alcoa plant had steel set by ironworkers from the area. “Ironworkers have done all of the work here historically. We have generations of ironworkers, second generation, third generation ... They are world renowned for their skill set. There is a touch of irony that they are losing the opportunity to work in their own backyard,” Mr. Lancette said.

Alcoa officials have previously said the CCC Group of Texas was the lowest bidder for the roof contract through a competitive process by a “significant margin. She said they opted to bring crews to the Massena project they had worked with in the past.

Mr. Lancette charged Local 440 ironworkers are convinced their skill set would have made their work competitive pricewise for Alcoa. “I understand corporations need to make money. We just want to have a chance. There are times when we are not as competitively priced for certain projects. As long as we get an equal opportunity, we don’t have a problem. We believe we would measure up for this project.

He said Local 440’s business manager had been working with a company from the Midwest this summer bidding on the Alcoa project. “The company had called looking for 24 to 30 ironworkers able to work 60-hour weeks for two to three months,” he said.

“He was in the process of assembling a crew when at the 11th hour he received a call saying, ‘Never mind. We don’t need workers. We didn’t get the contract.’ That was just three to four days before they wanted people on the job,” Mr. Lancette pointed out.

He acknowledged he didn’t have solid numbers on the difference in the bids for the project that have cost the ironworkers work at the Alcoa plant.

“We were initially told there was a $700,000 difference. But later we were told that wasn’t comparing apples to apples. Then we were told $140,000. That is a pimple on the —- of an $8 million project. Then we were told CCC was working for time and materials. But I can’t confirm any of that,” Mr. Lancette said, admitting his information was not coming from the Alcoa officials or the project manager handling the project.

The president of the Central and Northern New York Building Trades Council told picketers Friday he had thought the issue would be resolved earlier in the week.

“We were told we have already cost them $100,000. We haven’t disrupted production. We are telling people they are ———- when they go through the gate. But the construction work is not meeting schedule. “The minute we get in there we will make those days up because of our skilled workers. We want to be their partner,” he said.

Ryne R. Martin contributed to this story.

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