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Construction & Design

LI contractors win fight over town apprentice program

A Long Island judge has scuttled a town’s plan to force local contractors to employ apprentices if they want work.

United States District Court Judge Denis J. Hurley converted a previously imposed injunction preventing the Town of Oyster Bay enforcing the order and made it permanent after no-one bothered to defend the controversial code that would have required construction companies to have a state-approved apprenticeship program when constructing or renovating private commercial and residential buildings.

Contractors claimed the rule was unfair to small and minority-owned businesses and favored larger, unionized companies which typically do have apprenticeship programs.

JON FARRELL

“Local contractors faced serious economic harm if they were to be precluded from competing for private projects,” said attorney Jon Farrell. “Especially in the era of COVID-19, it is essential that contractors have unfettered legal access to pursue work without unconstitutional restrictions.”

Farrell, an attorney with Meltzer Lippe, sued the town on behalf of Hartcorn Plumbing and Heating, Inc. and the Long Island and New York Mechanical Contractors Association after the plumber, who employs 50 tradesmen, was notified by the Town in December of 2017 that he was ineligible for work on a large private commercial project in Bethpage because it did not comply with the then-recently enacted town code.

The controversial law required contractors working on projects of 100,000 s/f or more to have a state-approved apprenticeship program, which effectively eliminated most non-union competition and forced developers to hire union contractors instead.

According to Farrell, the Oyster Bay Code favored contractors with a union affiliated with just one large trade organization, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties (BCTC). Contractors affiliated with smaller labor organizations, or non-union contractors, could not satisfy the Town’s requirements of having at least one graduate within the last 24 months and at least one apprentice currently enrolled. 

In 2018, Judge Hurley said the code applied only to public – and not private – projects, and that it was pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act.  He issued an injunction that suspended enforcement of the order against contractors working on private projects with the caveat that the Town would make the necessary amendments to the Code. 

“After two years of discussions, delay and waiting for the Town to amend the code, the Town never took any concrete action to effectuate said change,” said Farrell, noting the judge converted his previously issued preliminary injunction into a permanent injunction, despite the Town’s “strenuous and vociferous objections.”

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