New York State promises money to avoid worker layoffs at SolarCity plant

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — New York State officials late Friday promised to pay some $80 million to contractors and avoid the layoff of about 200 workers.

Kevin Schuler, senior vice president for LPCiminelli Inc. late Friday told News4 about the breakthrough.

“As the developer for the landmark Riverbend SolarCity project we’ve been assured that the funding will be dispersed the first thing next week,” Schuler said.

“We will begin getting in touch with contractors this weekend with the expectation that workers will be back on the job and the project’s construction schedule will remain on course.”

Schuler said workers could be back on the job as early as Monday. Each contractor will decide how quickly that can return workers to the project.

“The minute the money hits our bank account we will disperse it,” said Schuler.

The deal was worked out with officials of the Empire State Development Corp. and SUNY Polytechnic Institute, state agencies that are carrying out the Riverbend project.

Contractors had been clamoring for months to get the back payments.

The issue became a crisis on Friday with the announced layoff of about 200 workers by three contractors building the massive SolarCity plant in South Buffalo.

Schuler said the company received word late Friday that the $80 million owed to them by the state will be in company bank accounts early next week.

On Friday about 200 workers did get layoff notices.  The laid off workers include about 110 steamfitters and plumbers working for Quackenbush Co Inc. and Mollenberg-Betz, both local mechanical contractors.

Michael McNally, business agent for Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 22 confirmed Friday that 110 of his members have been notified of the layoffs. (Late Friday, McNally said the final layoff number for his members was 110 and not the 130 that he initially reported.)

The steamfitters were working on installing pipes in the massive factory building. The building project has about 1,000 workers on site.

Around 70 members of Carpenters Local 276, who were employed by Mader Construction, were also laid off Friday.

This was confirmed Friday by Union Council Representative Daryl Bodewes. Bodewes says the layoffs are necessary because Mader has not been paid for two months and are not able to make payroll.

News 4 has confirmed that the layoffs stems from the state’s failure to make payments for two months to contractors on the project. Contractors were told that the payments are being processed but it is not known when those funds will reach them.

The money comes from the state to LPCiminelli, the developer which pays all of the subcontractors.

State officials could not be reached to explain why the payments have been delayed.

Empire State Development Spokesman Jason Conwell released a statement, saying, “Payments are being processed and as a result we do not expect this to result in any layoffs. This project remains on schedule and is still slated to be open in the Third Quarter of 2017, bringing nearly 1,500 new jobs to Western New York.”

Sources close to the project say the payment delay has nothing to do with SolarCity.

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