By Matt Daneman
February 22, 201
A crowd of Rochester- and Buffalo-area protesters from labor and social justice groups, including a smattering of Occupy Buffalo folks (though seemingly none, oddly, from Occupy Rochester) packed the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency meeting this week to raise some heck about tax breaks. Their foremost target was the package given in 2008 to Ward’s Scientific, a Henrietta-based distributor of science materials to schools. The COMIDA tax breaks in 2008 were for an expansion of that Henrietta site, with the expectation of it adding 20-some jobs over the next three years. And Ward’s has added those jobs and then some. But it also, as of last month, started consolidating its Tonawanda, Erie County, warehousing operations to Henrietta and laying off warehouse workers there.
With Ward’s moving that work just after Erie County IDA benefits expired on the Tonawanda site, the whole thing smells to the amassed protesters of Ward’s gaming the sytem, with IDAs like Monroe County’s willingly playing along. And the minute the COMIDA tax breaks expire, Ward’s will surely move those jobs to yet another one of its locations, claimed Richard Lipsitz, Political Affairs Director for Teamsters Joint Council 46 in Buffalo...
From the IDA standpoint, they’re incenting creation of new jobs – that’s their number-one concern. When a reporter asked COMIDA Executive Director Judy Seil after this week’s meeting whether the agency should be considering such issues as more-regional approaches, as the Ward’s folks were pushing, she stood her ground – Ward’s is in compliance with the tax breaks for the Henrietta project and “We should be grateful for the jobs we have,” she said (that was before a Monroe County employee barked that “Judy won’t be answering any more questions”).
Groups like the Coalition for Economic Justice want more than that gratitude. One of the organizers of the Ward’s protest, they want the IDA system to consider the quality and pay level of jobs (supposedly the Henrietta warehouse work at Ward’s will pay sizably less than the axed Tonawanda jobs) and more “clawback” efforts by IDAs – clawbacks meaning that if a company receives some tax breaks and then doesn’t live up to its end of the bargain, the IDA can demand the offending company pay the tax money it would’ve otherwise paid....
COMIDA members didn’t revoke that 2008 benefit package (and it raises the question whether, legally, they even could if Ward’s is living up to its end of the bargain). But [the Ward's protestors] said they’d be back next month, for the March 20 meeting. Whether or not they show, the issues they’ve brought up will continue to be in the gorilla in the meeting room.
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