Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Juan Gonzalez

Fishy smell coming from Bronx food firm



Beep Adolfo Carrion's campaign fund is padded by execs from firm Bronx leaders oppose.

Beep Adolfo Carrion's campaign fund is padded by execs from firm Bronx leaders oppose.


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Several months ago, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion actively backed a request from a large food company for public subsidies for a major expansion of the firm's Hunts Point processing center.

The application for $14.2million in tax-exempt bonds was submitted by Baldor Specialty Foods Inc. on May 10 to the Bronx Empowerment Zone, a joint city, state and federal job-creation agency.

That same week, six Baldor executives and employees contributed $6,000 to Carrion's political campaign fund for his expected 2009 race for mayor, city campaign finance records show.

Around the same time, Baldor hired Carrion's former press secretary, Eldin Villafane, as the company's spokesman.

Carrion's current press secretary, Mike Murphy, refused to comment when asked if Baldor's campaign contributions had anything to do with Carrion's support for the government subsidy.

"The purpose of the empowerment zone is to attract, grow and retain businesses in the South Bronx," Murphy said. "We use every available tool to accomplish this while at the same time ensuring that businesses provide good job opportunities with benefits."

Several Bronx community and labor leaders were outraged when they learned of Baldor's subsidy request and of Carrion's support for it.

Those leaders claim Baldor has been exploiting immigrant workers in the Bronx for years with low-wage jobs and a revolving-door policy that relies on temporary work contracts for local residents.

In response to those complaints, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx), who sits on the empowerment zone board, has been holding up approval of the bonds.

"Federal dollars should not be used for a race by companies to the bottom," Serrano said yesterday. "They should be used to help people attain a living wage."

Baldor President Michael Muzyk denies any mistreatment of his workers. He says Baldor employs more than 600 people at its facility and provides excellent benefits, including fully paid health insurance and salaries as high as $13 an hour for its drivers.

But payroll records Muzyk submitted to the empowerment zone show that as of this June, most of the 270 Bronx residents who worked for the company were paid less than $9 an hour.

Muzyk says he has been unfairly tarred by a few labor leaders who are trying to force him to hire unionized contractors to build his new processing center.

"I'm creating 450 new jobs with this project," Muzyk said. "More than 200 will be Bronx residents."

Muzyk said it's "absolutely untrue" that his firm hires many Bronx residents as temporary workers for its plant.

"I do not have temporary employment contracts," Muzyk said. "I do everything I can to prevent that."

Internal records reviewed by the Daily News from one of the outside hiring firms Baldor used this summer indicate Baldor wanted to see only "bilingual/Spanish females" for "four- to six-month work assignments" at $7.50 an hour.

Jose Chica, an organizer with Local 79 of the Mason Tenders Union, claimed the company employed scores of low-wage nonunion workers brought infrom Texas this summer to do demolition work for the expansion.

"They shouldn't be bringing laborers from Texas when Bronx people can do that work," Chica said.

"I have no idea where the construction workers come from," Muzyk said. He hired outside contractors to do the demolition and has no control over whom they employ.

As for the unusual timing of his company's campaign contributions to Carrion, Muzyk said: "We've made donations to all kinds of people. I've worked with Mayor Bloomberg and I've worked with the borough president. He believes in the Bronx and I grew up here."

Simply being from the Bronx doesn't entitle you to a free pass for government subsidies in Serrano's book.

"If you know there are serious allegations of problems, you don't just give a company more public money," he says.

jgonzalez@nydailynews.com

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