Gov. Kathy Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz have repeatedly claimed that 10,000 jobs will be created during construction of the $1.4 billion stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
“I love the fact that this is the largest construction project in Western New York history with 10,000 union jobs,” Hochul said during a visit in April to Buffalo.
It appears, however, that the stadium project will create about 6,800 direct construction jobs statewide, not the 10,000 claimed by Hochul and Poloncarz. That lower estimate was included in an economic impact study commissioned by the Bills.
Only by adding “indirect” and “induced” jobs — which the study says would be created by stadium vendors and suppliers and through spending by stadium construction workers — does the number reach the 10,000 mark.
The Empire State Development Corp. produced an analysis that concluded 10,000 jobs would be created. But it did not distinguish between direct and indirect jobs, and officials refused to release the underlying work used to make their calculations.
Union leaders say the project will guarantee thousands of jobs, mostly for unionized workers in Western New York. Just how many of those workers will be from Western New York remains to be seen.
The stadium would be built under a Project Labor Agreement. Non-union companies and their workers are not excluded from working on the stadium project, but they would be required to pay prevailing wages and work under union rules.
Critics say those requirements will dissuade non-union shops from bidding on stadium work. As a result, they say, construction workers who are not union members will be much less likely to be hired for stadium jobs.
“You’re going to see people from outside of Western New York working on that project,” said Brian Sampson, president of the Empire State chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group that represents non-union contractors.
“Meanwhile, the vast majority of the construction workforce in Western New York is going to be sitting on the sidelines watching.”
A Jan. 15, 2021 analysis, conducted by the private consulting firm CAA-ICON, examined the economic and fiscal impact of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the company that manages both the Bills and the Buffalo Sabres.
A chart near the end of the analysis estimates that building a new Bills stadium would create 10,572 jobs statewide, including 3,972 in Erie County and 1,373 in the City of Buffalo.
Of the statewide jobs total, 6,842 are identified in the study as “direct,” meaning they would be tied to construction of the stadium itself.
Another 1,032 are labeled as “indirect” positions created by suppliers and vendors for the stadium project.
A final jobs category called “induced” is also listed, with the analysis suggesting 2,697 more jobs would be added to the stadium mix thanks to spending on goods and services by direct and indirect stadium workers.
In response to questions from Investigative Post, Hochul aide Matthew Janiszewski said the 10,000 stadium jobs figure repeatedly referenced by the governor came from an analysis done by Empire State Development Corp.
In response to a Freedom of Information request, the state released a half-page “Economic Impact Analysis” that estimated, based on a $1.4 billion construction budget, the new stadium would result in 10,000 jobs statewide.
How did the analysis arrive at that number, and how many were direct vs. indirect jobs? The governor’s office refused to release the details.
Peter DeJesus Jr., president of the Western New York Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, said there’s no doubt that the “once-in-a-lifetime” stadium project will create “thousands upon thousands” of jobs for electricians, iron workers, steel workers and other trades people.
“This is going to be a massive project so it’s going to be all hands on deck when it comes to skilled trades,” he said.
Paul Brown, president of the Buffalo and Niagara County Building & Construction Trades Council, noted that stadium construction will come in phases, meaning not all workers would be on the job at the same time.
Brown said the trades council has about 14,000 members in Erie and Niagara counties and that it “won’t be a problem at all” to meet the labor demands of the stadium.
The unionized workforce can meet the stadium needs, he said, even as federally funded infrastructure projects ramp up and other large projects such as the proposed Amazon warehouse in the Town of Niagara move forward.
“It should just be very good for this area for the next couple of years,” Brown said.
Will all the stadium labor come from Western New York?
Sampson, head of the association representing non-union contractors, doesn’t think so.
How non-union contractors see it
Under the terms of an MOU signed by the state, Erie County and the Bills, the stadium would be built under a Project Labor Agreement that will establish the terms and conditions for employment for the stadium project.
Sampson estimates that 70 percent of Western New York’s construction workforce is non-union. With a PLA in place, he said non-union shops will be discouraged from bidding on stadium work.
“Non-union contractors typically aren’t going to bid on a project because it’s not fair to their workers, where some will go on the project and some will not,” he said.
DeJesus noted that the PLA would not require stadium construction workers to be union members and would only guarantee that all stadium workers be paid union wages and benefits.
“Non-union contractors have the right to bid on the work as well,” he said. “What a PLA does is it sets a standard, a standard of pay and wages for this project.”
DeJesus predicted between 90 and 95 percent of the stadium construction jobs will go to people living in Western New York. Due to the scope of the project, he said it may be necessary to seek some workers from outside the region in communities like Rochester or Syracuse.
“We have a pretty large unionized building trades here but, again, this is a project like we’ve never seen, so it’s going to be a total team effort,” he said.
Cost consequences of labor agreement
Critics argue that the PLA, coupled with New York’s prevailing wage law, increases the cost of the project, which is being covered, in part, by a $600 million contribution from the state and $250 million from Erie County.
Peter Warren, director of research with the Albany-based, conservative-leaning think tank, the Empire Center for Public Policy, estimates that labor conditions attached to the Bills stadium deal will drive up construction cost by about 20 percent.
In an op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Warren called the stadium deal a “hand-off to unions.”
“Exactly how much the prevailing-wage law adds to the stadium deal is hard to know, but it’s likely in the hundreds of millions,” Warren wrote.
DeJesus said he won’t apologize for ensuring stadium construction workers receive a “living wage” for work performed on a project involving hundreds of millions of dollars in public money.
“It is a publicly funded stadium,” he said. “We’re spending tax dollars on this. I would hope they would want a prevailing wage, a union wage that is a standard.”