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Cabela's Hiring Riles Labor Chief

September 20, 2006
By DAN UHLINGER, Courant Staff Writer

A union leader Tuesday criticized a decision by Cabela's Inc. to hire an out-of-state company it has used for previous projects to guide construction of its $50 million superstore planned at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

"By bringing in out-of-state contractors, our tax dollars fly right outside the state instead of being spent here right in Connecticut," Charles T. LeConche, director of the Connecticut First Coalition, said.

Dan Matos, the developer of Rentschler Field, said LeConche's comments were unfounded.

"The intent of Cabela's and the Matos group is to use union and non-union workers, primarily from the state," Matos said. "The company hired by Cabela's will act only as the construction manager. They will help Cabela's pick the contractors. They will not do the actual work. They're just acting as an agent for the owner."

With dozens of government officials looking on and dreaming of thousands of new jobs, Cabela's executives met with Gov. M. Jodi Rell last month to announce the start of the project and $21.9 million in state funding.

Last week, Cabela's hired Norwood Co. of Allentown, Pa., as construction manager for the 200,000-square-foot store project. A Cabela's spokesman defended the decision Tuesday.

"We have selected Norwood because of our need for a construction management company that is familiar with our store construction procedures," James Powell, the spokesman, said. "For additional contracting needs, as is our standard procedure, we will hire qualified, local subcontractors and labor whenever possible."

LeConche, leader of the coalition representing Associated General Contractors, the building trades and minority contractors, said he was told by Matos and East Hartford Mayor Melody A. Currey that he would be consulted before anyone was hired for the project.

"An invitation or actual discussions never took place," LeConche said. "I thought state and local officials learned some basic principles after the UConn 2000 building and construction debacle."

Currey said voice mail messages were left for LeConche that went unanswered. LeConche said he did not receive any communication.

East Hartford officials have been meeting daily with Cabela's representatives to ready plans expected to be filed with the town this week or early next week. Cabela's wants to open the store in September 2007.

"This project is going to be done very rapidly and there's not a doubt in my mind that this will be done by union workers because they're the ones who can really do the job in a short time," Currey said.

Currey and other officials have been working with Norwood representatives.

"They're open to seeing the need to do it the Connecticut way," Currey said.

LeConche talked to Matos before Rell's announcement in August and threatened to stage a protest at Rentschler Field because of the lack of a written commitment to hire in-state workers. The two agreed to meet later and talk about the project.

"We never met," LeConche said. "You take people on their word. Between the mayor's office and Matos, we were led to believe that before any individuals would be selected we would meet."

Matos criticized LeConche for shooting from the hip without thinking of the consequences.

"Charlie in the past has gone off and said and done things that were not correct, which resulted in communities, like the Latino community, being very upset with him," Matos said.

Leaders of a statewide Latino advocacy group earlier this year called for LeConche's ouster as president of the Greater Hartford-New Britain Building and Construction Trades Council because of a labor dispute that scared away headline speaker Hillary Rodham Clinton from the group's 30th anniversary gala in Hartford.

Matos said he has been talking with other union leaders in addition to LeConche and vowed to hire a Connecticut general contractor for the overall Rentschler project, which calls for a $2 billion multi-use development.

Phil Rabuano, business representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 478, has met with Matos and said union leaders have a meeting Tuesday with Cabela's representatives.

"We're hopeful work will go to Connecticut contractors," he said. "I've talked with Matos and we've met on a few occasions with the mayor and she's been very helpful. There will be ongoing meetings with the Matos group and hopefully we'll move forward building the project with Connecticut workers."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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