Friday, November 04, 2011

Whither the AY Independent Compliance Monitor? It's up to the CBA executive committee, which last met four months ago. Also, an update on job numbers and BUILD's role.

At yesterday's Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, a bi-monthly meeting of involved agencies and developer Forest City Ratner, elected officials asked about the Independent Compliance Monitor and current job totals.

They got a lot more information about the latter from Forest City Ratner, including an emphasis on the role of BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), a major signatory of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which includes the compliance monitor.

But the information itself was somewhat questionable, because of the absence of the former to clarify, with independence, exactly what the developer was saying.

The Independent Compliance Monitor

Council Member Letitia James brought up an issue I raised recently in City Limits. “In the CBA, there’s a provision...which talks about an Independent Compliance Monitor,” she said. “ Is Forest City Ratner going to hire that compliance monitor and are you going to adhere to the provisions of the CBA?”

“Yes. I mean, the, um, all the matters in the CBA will be adhered to,” Forest City executive Jane Marshall replied, not all that firmly. “There’s an executive committee that has to decide when it wants to do an RFP for a Compliance Monitor.”

“When does that Executive Committee meet and where, and how often?” asked James.

“Typically--it’s usually typically every other month,” Marshall responded.

“And who chairs that?”

“Dee Adossa, from BEE [Brooklyn Endeavor Experience].”

“When was the last time they had a meeting?”

“I think it was actually four months ago, but that doesn't mean we don't communicate,” Marshall said. “We have biweekly calls with the chair, and we have meetings with all of the groups all of the time,”
She noted that the groups have different mandates, “and so we work with them based on what their mandate is.”

“And so the compliance monitor will be hired when?” pressed James.

“When the executive committee decides,” responded Marshall.

James later pointed out that the purpose of the ICM is to monitor employment and contracting. "It appears," she said drily, "that person will be hired over the next year when construction is completed."

(Note that photography and video are banned "to prevent disruptions" at such cabinet meetings. I think they're banned to prevent showing just how sketchy some statements sound.)

Reasons for skepticism

If the executive committee hardly meets, hasn’t decided yet, and has members whose groups are financially tied to or dependent on Forest City Ratner, what incentive do they have for an Independent Compliance Monitor?

Delia Hunley-Adossa, who chairs the executive committee, didn't respond to queries last month about the monitor.

Questions have been raised before. Marshall claimed 9/29/10, "The CBA agreement was signed a long time ago. It didn't actually go into effect until we broke ground for the arena."

That’s highly dubious, but even so, they’re more than 18 months late.

At that earlier meeting, Marshall said, with some uncertainty in her voice, "And so now we are putting together a plan for kicking off the--with each group--the responsibilities and how and what they want to effectuate over the first year, the second year, other years. So far, we're engaged in a planning activity with them and we--so therefore it's not appropriate right now to have hired somebody or retained somebody to do--be the independent monitor because we have to first figure what they can be monitoring."

Among the things the ICM was supposed to do was help monitor the bidding process “[d]uring the construction period.” The construction period has long been with us.

How many jobs?

James said her understanding--based, I suspect, on a skewed report from a community board meeting that referred just to that CB--was that there were only 14 local jobs, and asked for the totals.

Marshall consulted a piece of paper. She said the average number of jobs on the site is about 600. “There were 856 individuals that were employed by the project,” she said, with half from New York City, and 43% of that subset from Brooklyn. That would mean 428 New Yorkers, including 184 Brooklynites.

That average number of jobs is a more useful statistic, as Forest City jobs were promised in job-years.

It was not clear whether Marshall’s 856 number refers to the current workers at the site or a cumulative number, as such different metrics have been used previously by FCR--hence the value of the compliance monitor.

By contrast, the consultant to the arena bond trustee in September, in a report issued this week, counted 415 workers at the arena and transit connection. That report did not count additional workers at the railyard, which is not subject to bond funding and thus not subject to the consultant's report.

Still, to reach 600, that would mean 185 workers at the railyard.

Local workers and BUILD

James asked about local workers. Marshall said 132 people had been placed through the CLE (Community Labor Exchange), with 85 of those workers still on the site.

“How many of those workers," James asked, "came from BUILD?"

“I don't have that,” Marshall said, noting that BUILD does not refer union workers. She said 62 of the 132, or 47%, were from Community Boards 2, 3, and 6. (Community Boards 2, 6, and 8 are associated with the project footprint.)

After State Senator Velmanette Montgomery followed up, Marshall clarified that BUILD has occasionally referred union workers to the CLE. “but predominantly BUILD is focused on employment in the community, and not just on the job site.”

Montgomery expressed concern. “Because when we were in discussions regarding the construction, the plan itself, there was an anticipation of a large number [of jobs] from the community,” she said. “They were supporting the project because there would be jobs, and BUILD was the organizing entity for those community people who thought they would be working on the construction.”

BUILD’s James Caldwell, at the other end of the room at Borough Hall, looked somber. BUILD has worked on a range of employment issues, but has emphasized the project itself. For example, in 2004 it presented a public forum series titled: Opportunities with Atlantic Yards Development-“Don’t Get Left Behind.”

“It's just interesting that in fact that has not proven to be what resulted from BUILD’s support of the project,” Montgomery continued. “I just want to put that on record."

“You should also understand that they have placed a rather large number of people into employment in the retail and customer service industry,” Marshall said.

“Not on this project,” Montgomery said.

“Not on the construction site,” Marshall affirmed.

Getting into the unions

Forest City exec Bob Sanna said “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.

Montgomery said it was her understanding “there were community people who were anticipating having jobs on the site and were not able to do that.”

“There are only three sanctioned programs for apprenticeship,” Marshall said a bit later. “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."

"The point is: jobs"

That, she said, is why FCR is "redoubling our efforts in permanent employment and training with BUILD, in other areas."

“Right now, the focus is on the arena opening, which is really about customer service. So their training program is on customer service," Marshall continued. "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, And that is actually the goal--it could be construction, but the point is: jobs.”

Well, yes, and no. Some jobs provide more of a career path, more compensation, and more security than others.

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