One of the area's largest construction firms, owned by Darien Center resident John Zoladz, lost a $435,692 contract for a project in Hamburg this week, after being the low bidder, and is blaming what the company describes as a pro-union front group for the change of direction.
Meanwhile, an organization calling itself The New York Foundation for Fair Contracting sent out a press release celebrating the decision by unnamed Erie County leaders, who squashed the Zoladz contract under the state's "Lowest Responsible Bidder" law.
The law allows government agencies to reject low bids from contractors not deemed qualified. Generally, that means the company placing the lowest bid has the capability to fully and reliably perform the contract requirements.
NYFFC's press release suggests Zoladz is not qualified because of two work-related deaths in the past couple of years and was accused of falsely claiming it was a small business owned by a service-disabled veteran.
The NYFFC press release says that Zoladz paid a $3 million fine, which is not entirely accurate. The company was required to pay a portion of that fine and there as no finding of liability.
While NYFFC portrays itself as a "watchdog" group, Zoladz, which is a non-union shop, alleges that the trustees of the nonprofit have strong ties to International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17.
"The entities share the same address and likely share services," Zoladz said in its press release. "The trustees also appear to include at least one apparent operator of a company that directly competes with Zoladz.
"Finally, the 'Foundation' appears to be funded, at least in part, by union-employer contributions from collective-bargaining agreements. It is clear that, even without the 'Foundation’s' previous history with Zoladz as explained below, it is a motivated competitor of open-shop Zoladz."
It is true that Zoladz was fined by the OSHA over work-related deaths of employees. In August of 2016, Aaron L. Wellman died when a piece of construction equipment rolled off a trailer on Route 20 in Darien Center. The fine in that case was $8,000. On April 5, 2018, an employee was caught in a conveyor belt and suffocated. Zoladz was fined $43,000.
"To the NYFFC’s understanding, this is the first instance of Erie County using its lawful responsible bidder authority," the NYFFC said in its statement. "This enforcement ensures responsible contractors who abide by the law and deliver a high-quality product have a fair shot at public works contracts."
In the Hamburg project, Zoladz bid on just a portion of the $3 million job. The company blames competitors for lobbying against the company receiving the contract.
From the press release:
"Zoladz Construction disagrees strongly with the county’s sudden reversal, coming as it does in the wake of governmental pressure from competitors," said Jennifer K. Harvey, attorney for Zoladz.
"While we certainly agree with DPW that the settlement at issue in this matter does not result in a negative finding, we vigorously dispute the legal and factual reasons DPW cited as a basis for finding Zoladz’ bid incomplete and subject to rejection.
"We are requesting a hearing to exhaust our administrative remedies, and we remain confident and hopeful that Zoladz will be able to start work soon on this long-promised project that’s so critical to the safety and peace of mind of county taxpayers driving in Hamburg."
The press release states the NYFFC issued a letter May objecting to the award of the contract and said the group has mounted a similar "attack" in Niagara County but that the County Legislature there investigated and found the complaints without merit before awarding the company a $1.8 million contract for work on the county landfill.
Zoladz, based in Alden, employes 175 people and was founded by cousins John Zoladz and Tom Dougherty in 1985, when they had only a tractor and a backhoe. Now they have offices in Charlotte, N.C., Avon, and Lackawanna.