Unions Given Tappan Zee Bridge Work Made Massive Donations to Cuomo

The unions received as much as $1.5 billion in work on the $4 billion bridge

Unions Given Tappan Zee Bridge Work Made Massive Donations to Cuomo
TARRYTOWN, NY - MAY 14: Gov.Andrew Cuomo introduces President Barack Obama

The unions that worked on dismantling the old Tappan Zee Bridge and that built its replacement contributed nearly $800,000 to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign.

Roughly a dozen unions listed in the contract for the New NY Bridge Project, a nearly $4 billion project, have donated $784,000 to Cuomo’s campaign between 2010 and now, according to a Sludge analysis of campaign finance records.

The contract on the bridge, which was renamed after Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, included a project labor agreement between the New York State Thruway Authority and the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO and its affiliates, and local union members, as well as the Rockland County Building & Construction Trades Council, affiliated unions and local unions. A project labor agreement acts as a master agreement between the contractors who are awarded the contracts and all of the laborers, rather than having several different agreements. As part of the all-encompassing agreement, contractors awarded work on the bridge agreed to hire union workers.

The contract lists roughly two dozen labor unions that were involved in building the new bridge, about half of which donated to Cuomo’s campaign or had parent companies donate, financial disclosures with the state’s Board of Elections show.

The New York State Building & Construction Trades Council—which represents roughly 200,000 unionized construction workers, has 16 local building trade councils and a dozen district councils—contributed nearly $137,000 to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign between 2010 and now. A political action committee associated with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York—which is part of the state trades council—has also donated roughly $140,000 to Cuomo’s campaign, disclosures show.

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York endorsed Cuomo’s re-election in June citing Cuomo’s work on increasing infrastructure spending in New York.

When asked if the endorsement was a result of the work unions received on the new bridge, a spokesperson for the Trades Council for Greater New York reiterated Cuomo’s support for construction job creation tied to infrastructure.

The unions received an estimated $1 billion to $1.5 billion in work from building the new bridge and deconstructing the old Tappan Zee, according to John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog organization.

“The bridge cost roughly $4 billion, a stupendous amount, much of it coming from bank settlement funds that could have been spent on everything from the subway to repairing crumbling Upstate water systems to removing lead from drinking water in Buffalo,” Kaehny told Sludge Tuesday afternoon.

“The problem with campaign contributions is that they cloud and politicize the case for doing things—the more massive the contribution, the more they warp public policy and decision making,” he added.

Several local unions belonging to the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), whose members worked on the bridge, also donated $125,500 to Cuomo’s campaign over the last eight years, disclosures show.

A Cuomo campaign spokeswoman did not respond to request for comment on whether the campaign was aware that unions working on the bridge had donated to the governor’s campaign or whether there were any incentives for unions or union employees to donate to the Cuomo campaign.

The new bridge, which is actually two separate bridges crossing the Hudson River in the northern suburbs of New York City, has come under increased scrutiny in recent days after Cuomo held a campaign-like event Friday to announce that the eastbound span of the bridge would open the following day. But the bridge did not open as anticipated due to concerns by engineers that part of the old Tappan Zee Bridge could collapse onto the new one.

Cuomo’s political opponents, including his primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, were quick to claim that the governor rushed to open the second span of the bridge ahead of the primary to score political points.

Calling it “nonsensical” and “political silly season,” the governor said it was not his decision on whether to open the new span, but rather the contractors on the bridge. But a letter obtained by the New York Times Monday was contrary to Cuomo’s remarks.

The letter from a Cuomo administration official tasked with overseeing the bridge project shows that the administration offered sweeteners to the contractor building the bridge to get work finalized by late August, weeks before the primary.