NEW YORK—Unemployed residents of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, marched past the emerging New Jersey Nets basketball arena on Atlantic Avenue Wednesday, demanding the construction jobs they say developer Forest City Ratner had promised them.
Construction of the arena began in March 2010, amid much protest. Some community members were skeptical about promises of benefits the Barclays Center arena would bring to the area. Controversy has accompanied the development every step of the way—from the eminent domain lawsuits to the developer's decision to cut back labor and switch architects, as financial troubles threatened the $4.9 billion project.
Wednesday's crowd of about 30 unemployed tradesmen and willing laborers intended to keep the controversy stoked until they could find their place among the workers on a job site in their neighborhood.
“The Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards is the first piece of what will be one of the largest private investments and job generators in Brooklyn's history,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the groundbreaking in 2010.
“The world-class arena will bring the Nets to Brooklyn, and the entire project will bring with it tens of thousands of construction and permanent jobs, thousands of units of affordable housing, and tremendous economic activity,” said the mayor.
The developer, Forest City Ratner, reports that 543 people are currently working on the arena, 217 of whom are Brooklyn residents and 100 of whom were placed through the Community Labor Exchange program. The program aims to hire union workers from the surrounding area. Project spokesman Joe DePlasco said that plans include hiring 16,000 workers over the course of construction, but did not specify what percentage of these workers will be from the community.
In an agreement with community organiztions, Forest City Ratner made a commitment to hire local labor, giving priority to low-income individuals, minorities, and women. The commitment is rather vague, however, and Community Board 2 District Manager Robert Perris says it is difficult to enforce.
The Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) states, “The Developers will use good faith efforts to meet the overall goal during construction of the arena and the project of employing, or causing to be employed, not less than 35 percent minority and 10 percent women construction workers, of which 35 percent of each category shall have the status of journey-level worker.”
According to the agreement, training programs are to be established for unqualified applicants, in which local New York City Housing Authority residents and low-income individuals would have priority placement. While the allotment of jobs to minorities and women is clearly quantified by percentage, the number of local employees to be hired is unspecified in the agreement.
All of the contract stipulations rest on the oversight of an Independent Compliance Monitor (ICM). The ICM is a committee composed of representatives of each benefit category, explained Perris in a phone interview. The ICM is responsible for assessing whether Forest City Ratner has sufficiently fulfilled its duties.
“The ICM has never been funded,” said Perris. The CBA states that an executive committee shall be established to assist with the implementation of the agreement. “I'm not sure if they've ever met. We've not been apprised of any meeting or of how successful any commitments have been,” says Perris.
Should the ICM find that Forest City Ratner has not fulfilled its end of the deal, the developer would be required to pay $500,000.
“Some people have said it's a buyout,” quipped Perris. Echoing concerns of many opponents of the development, Perris noted that government involvement in the project has been minimal and no officials were party to the CBA.
“Nobody in government has any sort of leverage to say, 'You guys haven't done what you said you're going to do,'” Perris said.
Unemployed workers under the leadership of local activist Carl Patterson plan to gather weekly until they are hired on either the Barclay Center construction site or one of several other sites in their neighborhood that bring in workers from other parts of the city.
DePlasco said he hopes construction will proceed uninhibited and noted that while Forest City Ratner has been dealing with litigation and fiscal woes, the company has helped place 116 local residents in retail, security, building, management, and construction supervisory positions.