The demolition site this morning. Photo: Peter Blasl

Union officials are objecting to Riverhead Town’s award of a $965,000 demolition contract to a company that is not a participant in a qualified apprenticeship program registered, which the union says is mandated by the town’s procurement policy.

The town board on Sept. 30 awarded the contract to raze two Main Street buildings where the town intends to create a town square to J. Petrocelli Contracting, which was the low bidder in a competitive bidding process.

Demolition began on Oct. 18, during a news conference called by Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

At the town board meeting the following day, Councilwoman Catherine Kent asked whether the contractor who was awarded the bid has an apprenticeship program in place. Kent on Aug. 26 voted along with the rest of the board to approve the bid document, which did not include an apprenticeship requirement. She did not raise an objection at the time. She also voted to approve the bid award to J. Petrocelli Contracting, which was approved by the board unanimously.

The apprenticeship program requirement was added to the town’s procurement policy by a unanimous vote of the town board on Aug. 7, 2018 and on Feb. 5, 2019 was incorporated into Chapter 115 of the Riverhead Town Code, which codifies the procurement policy. Requiring a contractor to have a registered apprenticeship program essentially requires the town to contract with unionized companies because of the state and federal requirements for apprenticeship programs. It was a long-sought victory for organized labor, which had been asking Riverhead Town to adopt such a requirement for years. See Aug. 8, 2018 story, “Riverhead Town adopts apprenticeship requirement for large municipal construction contracts.”

Deputy Town Attorney Annmarie Prudenti answered Kent’s question from the podium at the Oct. 19 meeting. Prudenti said the apprenticeship requirement did not apply to the demolition contract because demolition is not “construction” as defined in the State Labor Law provision governing apprenticeship programs.

The town’s procurement policy states all “public works contracts involving construction contracts, as defined in Labor Law § 816-b, in excess of $250,000 and/or 100,000 square feet, whichever is less” to require the bidder/contractor and subcontractors to comply with the apprenticeship program requirements of the procurement policy.

Section 816-b of the State Labor Law (“Apprenticeship participation on construction contracts”) defines “construction contract” as any contract that “involves the design, construction, reconstruction, improvement, rehabilitation, maintenance, repair, furnishing, equipping of or otherwise providing for any building, facility or physical structure of any kind.”

“Here, we are doing demolition,” Prudenti said. “We are not rehabbing a building. We are not constructing a building or a physical thing. We are actually really physically removing two buildings and bringing them to dirt,” she said.

“That’s just not true,” said Josh Slaughter, Long Island political coordinator for Local 66 of the General Building Laborers Union.

“Demolition is construction,” Slaughter said in a phone interview Friday. “Anyone who’s a labor attorney knows the definition,” he said.

Slaughter said the local has spoken to its attorneys about the situation in Riverhead. “We’ve requested a meeting with Riverhead, so we can sit down and have the attorneys talk,” he said.

“This is a way to skirt the law,” Slaughter said. “This is clearly a construction project. If they don’t change, we’re going to challenge it.”

It’s not clear what impact this dispute may have, if any, on the demolition project.

No additional demolition work appears to have taken place at the site since the news conference last week, but it’s not known whether there has been any delay due the apprenticeship issue. A representative of J. Petrocelli Contracting could not be reached for comment this morning.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.