Bills Stadium Project Labor Agreement. Burden or Benefit?

A provision in the Bills stadium agreement is the object of cheer and concern for labor groups in buffalo.

The new Buffalo Bills stadium will be one of the largest public works projects to come to Buffalo in the last decade.  The project is poised to create 10,000 jobs and will cost $1.3 billion. The stadium should host the Bills for the next 30 years. The project has the ability to provide work for all tradesmen in Buffalo.

The current Bills stadium – New York Times

Understanding who will be building the stadium is important. The building process will require work from almost every major trade. The stadium project was sold as an opportunity to develop local jobs. However, some argue provisions in the stadium agreement might limit the potential local participants.

A project labor agreement (“PLA”) was included as part of the agreement on a new stadium signed between New York, Erie County, and the Buffalo Bills. A PLA is a collective bargaining agreement between a contractor and labor unions on issues like wages, deadlines, and work standards.[1] The specifics of the PLA on the Bills stadium have not been released, and they are still being negotiated. However, the MOU makes clear that the agreement will be subject to Article 8 of New York’s Labor Law, requiring payment of prevailing wages. [2]

The PLA was apparently a contested part of the stadium negotiations. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced on Twitter that the PLA was something he fought hard for in the negotiations. According to Poloncarz, the PLA ensures that union represented laborers benefit from the stadium project. [3]

Labor unions certainly have a place in New York. The State currently ranks second in labor union participation amongst the rest of the US, with 22.2% of wage and salary workers being union-represented.[4]  However, in Western New York that number drops to 11%.[5] Of that 11%, many are public sector employees, graduate students, and healthcare workers. The actual number of truly local union contractors is low.

The PLA has irked non-union workers who wish to participate in the stadium project. A Buffalo News article stated that because of the prevailing wage requirement, 2/3 of local construction shops will be unable to work on the project, and that the pool of potential workers is unreasonably restricted. The article further states that the prevailing wage requirement increased the cost of the stadium by $200 million. [6] Detractors of the PLA claim that contractors will be forced to work with unknown construction groups simply because of wage mechanisms. They propose instead that all qualified contractors should be allowed to submit bids on the stadium project in order to keep as many local workers on the project as possible.[7]

Supporters see the PLA as important. To them, the PLA keeps the investment local as much as possible. It also supports neighboring union workers who may need to be brought in if there are not enough tradesmen to meet strict deadlines. They also see this as an opportunity to grow local trades and build up local unions.[8]

Concerns of both sides are being addressed throughout the negotiation process. On Monday, the first contractor information session was hosted at Highmark Stadium. The leading contractors, Gilbane Building Company, Turner Construction Company, and the 34 Group, stated that they are advocating for non-union and small local contractors. A representative from the lead contractors stated that the groups are negotiating the PLA to make sure these groups are addressed and integrated into the project.[9]

The concerns about the PLA’s impact on local workers might be amplified based on recent developments. New York, and the rest of the country, are currently facing a severe shortage of construction workers as demand for their services has increased. State and local governments are flush with cash from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act, both of which fund significant public works projects. With such a high demand for workers, labor shortages may pose a significant obstacle to meeting the stadium’s proposed 2026 deadline.

Graph depicting increasing demand for construction workers relative to spending – American Builders and Contractors

Concerns about the PLA are valid. If the intent is to maximize the investment in Western New York, then non-union contractors from the region should not be turned away in favor of other union shops from outside the area. However, the PLA and its prevailing wage rule are following existing state law by requiring prevailing wages. Small contractors who wish to participate may take this as an opportunity to increase wages and benefits for their workers in order to participate in the stadium project. The increased cost from the PLA is also significant. The cost is ultimately passed along to the taxpayers, who are funding a majority of the project. Luckily, maximizing the benefit to taxpayers by focusing on keeping the investment local seems to be the primary concern for the PLA negotiators.

[1] New York Labor Law § 222.








[9] groups are included, according to a representative

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