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Sarno administration reverses stance on REO

Date: 2/17/2010

Feb. 17, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- On Friday on the steps of City Hall about 300 building trades union members gathered with the intent of protesting the city's decision not to apply the Responsible Employer Ordinance (REO) to the construction of a new Putnam Vocational High School.

Instead the protest turned out to be a victory party.

"Yesterday it didn't apply. It was against the law. Today it does apply," Dan D'Alma, the president of Pioneer Valley Building Trades said. D'Alma had been told the REO could not be applied to the Putnam project by the city law Department.

The REO guarantees that city residents would fill 35 percent of the labor used on city projects such as Putnam. The REO also provides a provision for the hiring of apprentices into certified union apprentice programs.

D'Alma told the union members the switch in the city's position came from their involvement in the issue.

"It's a coincidence," one person shouted.

"It's a miracle," another said.

D'Alma noted that union trades people volunteer time and services with such organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. He asked the audience what out-of-town contractors give back to the community.

"Nothing," they shouted in reply.

Speaking before attending Outlook 2010, Sarno said, "The bid protest has been resolved. The REO is going to be put in."

He added, "The major thing is get this project done."

Sarno signed the REO into law last summer. He said the concern about including the REO into the Putnam project stemmed from the timing of the bids for the new high school.

The mayor added there had been "a delicate balancing process on the legal aspects" and that he has always been in favor of the REO.

Now he said, "Labor has to sharpen their pencils on this," implying the use of union labor might increase the cost of the project.

Sarno affirmed the state has put a cap of $125 million on the new high school. Any overage would have to be paid by the city.

Pointing at the MassMutual Center, D'Alma said in response there had been the same fears expressed using union labor on that renovation and there were no over-runs.

"It can't exceed [$125 million]," D'Alma spoke of Putnam. "So, it won't exceed."

He called the claim that union labor would boost the budget "a fallacy."

Sarno said the REO would apply to the renovations of the Forest Park Middle School and the build-outs at the former Federal Building for the new quarters of the School Department.

D'Alma called the decision to include the REO as a "major victory for the [city's] residents."