Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seven (of 36) trainees who went through job training program for Atlantic Yards construction jobs sue Forest City, BUILD, others, claiming promises were a sham

Forest City Ratner and Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) signatory BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) have made extensive promises regarding construction jobs for locals at the Atlantic Yards project, a new lawsuit contends, but have not come through.

A Daily News exclusive today, headlined Promise of union jobs a lie by Atlantic Yards, suit by construction workers charge, presages a press conference this afternoon about the suit.

The essence of the case

Notably, the plaintiffs include some people who vocally supported the project with the expectation of jobs. The Daily News reports that workers who say they were promised Atlantic Yards construction jobs instead got "a sham training program" and "offers to work in maintenance, a health club and McDonald’s":
Seven construction workers will sue developer Bruce Ratner Tuesday, accusing him of falsely promising them the moon to win political and community approval of his controversial Atlantic Yards project.

He not only failed to deliver the jobs but also stiffed them for work they performed in the training program, they allege.
Were workers guaranteed construction work, as alleged? No, BUILD CEO James Caldwell told the newspaper. His organization, along with the deeper-pocketed Forest City Ratner, and individual company executives, are named in the suit.

Forest City declined comment until the company sees the suit. Likely crucial to the case is what specifically the trainees were promised, and how that can be established in court.

Lawyers involved

The seven workers, of 36 who went through pre-apprentice training promised in the CBA, are represented by South Brooklyn Legal Services and the Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, the two law firms that represented individual plaintiffs in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain suit.

Expect many more details in the suit today.

The CBA's promise

BUILD and Forest City took a while to implement the job training program promised in the CBA, signed in June 2005:
Commencing upon execution of this Agreement, Developers and BUILD shall initiate and coordinate a job training program to train Community residents for construction jobs within the Arena and Project...
(Emphasis added)

Such a daily pre-construction training program was finally held five years later, from late August through mid-December 2010, for 36 people. Forest City spent $134,000 (according to BUILD) to fund the training, held mainly at FCR offices but implemented through consultants hired by BUILD. It has not, apparently, held a second round, though it can do so in later phases of the development.

Most of the group were not employed as of late spring, at least according to the count BUILD officials gave me in June, though the Daily News, paraphrasing Caldwell, today reports that "most of the 36 have been placed in maintenance jobs at other Ratner properties."

Only one person was working at the Atlantic Yards site, BUILD officials told me in mid-June, while three others were working at FCR’s Beekman Tower and two at Related Companies, with three others at Planet Fitness, two at McDonald’s, and one at QuickLube.

Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards web site now deflects the issue, claiming, as in the screenshot, that the training program "has already been developed to help new workers develop the kinds of skills that they can use beyond this project." (Emphasis added)

Moving to customer service

And Forest City officials have deflected the issue as well. “Right now, the focus is on the arena opening, which is really about customer service. So their training program is on customer service," stated company executive Jane Marshall at the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting on 11/3/11. "We introduced them to the Barclays Center management team. They are working now directly with the Barclays Center management team, so they can have the appropriate training to fit into their job fairs and when they go out to hire people, which is going to be happening in the spring."

"So right now, BUILD is focusing on training for those kinds of jobs, because it is far easier and probably a better fit, to employ as many people from the community as possible," Marshall said. "And that is actually the goal--it could be construction, but the point is: jobs.” (I describe the customer service program graduation in a separate article today.)

Union access?

Forest City exec Bob Sanna said at the cabinet meeting that “a certain number” of graduates from a BUILD training program “have recently been admitted into an apprentice program in the Roofers union.

He didn't provide a number, but Caldwell told me last week three people got in.

“There are only three sanctioned programs for apprenticeship,” Marshall said at that cabinet meeting. “Bob Sanna went to each of those sanctioned program and found 200 slots for the apprenticeships. And so BUILD's initial apprenticeship program, we did get people to get in line and get those spots. As Bob said they are getting their [union] books. There are not a lot of jobs anyway out there in construction right now."

How many have union cards? Ten, Caldwell said later.

As at the graduation ceremony last week, Caldwell told the Daily News that "we had to make adjustments" in BUILD's mission, given the lack of construction jobs.

However, attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff told the newspaper, describing the case, "They were promised union membership with union jobs, instead they got McDonald's."

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