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Coalition calls for investigation into "job shifting" by COMIDA

Protestors rallied outside a COMIDA meeting on Tuesday. Now they're upping the stakes.
Carlet Cleare
Protestors rallied outside a COMIDA meeting on Tuesday. Now they're upping the stakes.

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Labor groups backed by several Buffalo-area lawmakers are calling for an investigation of the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency (COMIDA).

In a letter filed Thursday afternoon with the state's Authorities Budget Office (ABO), the Getting Our Money's Worth Coalition claims COMIDA broke state law by offering tax breaks to VWR Education LLC.

The letter alleges that the COMIDA tax breaks aided VWR in shifting jobs from the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda to the Rochester suburb of Henrietta.

The law that governs IDAs prohibits job shifting.

"We don't believe that VWR deserves to be publicly funded for shifting jobs from one community down the road to another community," said Kristi Barnes, a spokeswoman for the coalition. "It's as simple as that."

The dispute starts in 2008 - when VWR (the owner of Ward's Natural Science) received more than $250,000 in tax breaks from COMIDA to expand operations in Henrietta.

Now fast forward to last month: VWR laid off 41 workers in Tonawanda and said it was consolidating operations in Henrietta.

The labor coalition says that's against the rules. From Thursday's letter:

Given that neither VWR nor COMIDA provided justification for this job shifting, one can conclude that COMIDA, knowingly or unknowingly, aided VWR in the removal of the warehouse in Tonawanda.

Barnes says her group wants to see the VWR tax breaks terminated.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, ABO Director David Kidera confirmed receipt of the labor coalition's letter.

Kidera says the ABO takes such requests for investigation seriously. "We'll do our best to look into it," Kidera said.

Kidera says the law governing IDAs does prohibit job poaching - but with conditions.

An IDA is allowed to offer incentives to companies in neighboring communities if it can be demonstrated that the company would move out of state or if the company would be placed at a competitive disadvantage by staying at its original location, according to Kidera.

Kidera says the ABO doesn't have the authority to terminate IDA tax subsidies. The attorney general would have to pursue such actions through the courts, according to Kidera.

No one from COMIDA was available to comment on the letter on Thursday.

But earlier in the week, when activists from the coalition protested the VWR/Ward's Natural Science case outside of a COMIDA meeting, the Democrat and Chronicle's Matt Daneman wrote:

COMIDA did not directly address the protesters’ demand or criticisms. But COMIDA Executive Director Judy Seil said that Ward’s Henrietta employment has grown from 208 in April 2008 to 257 as of the end of 2011 — exceeding its job growth requirements sevenfold.

Below is the full copy of the investigation request filed by the Getting Our Money's Worth Coalition.

ABO Investigation Request

WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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