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Forest City Ratner again deflects questions about Independent Compliance Monitor for CBA; contrast with Columbia, where local candidate has critiqued CBA

“Atlantic Yards is setting a new standard for inclusion and community involvement for a development, and the ICM [Independent Compliance Monitor] will be everyone’s watchdog to ensure we reach all of the goals and benefits we have agreed to in the CBA [Community Benefits Agreement]," Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner said in March 2007.

Since then, the developer has steadily avoided that contractual responsibility. “Hopefully we'll get it done soon," executive Jane Marshall said in November 2010, claiming the CBA only went into effect when the arena broke ground.

They [FCR] are going to retain a compliance monitor per the CBA, but they are going to wait until the housing phase,” a spokesman told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in January 2012.

The issue came up again last night during a bi-monthly meeting of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee, held at Borough Hall.

Has an Independent Compliance Monitor been hired, asked Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association.

"I don't think so," Marshall responded, checking with a colleague and confirming, "The answer's no."

Arena hiring and the CBA

Later in the meeting, Terence Kelly, Barclays Center Community Affairs Manager, presented some familiar but upbeat statistics regarding arena hiring: 
  • some 100 full-time jobs and 1900 part-time (200  housekeeping, 800 working for AEG on facilities, 900 working for Levy Restaurants) 
  • approximately 80% of all hires from Brooklyn
  • 35% from the priority Community Boards of 2,3,6,8 
  • over 30% are NYCHA residents 
  • over 120 employees are BUILD referrals 
“What type of benefits are provided?” asked Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, in a question that surely an ICM could answer.

“I wouldn't be able to answer that,” Kelly responded.

“There’s no health benefits because they’re part-time employees," added Ashley Cotton, Forest City's External Affairs Executive VP. "However, we feel there's a benefit to being part of a union,” she added, noting she didn’t have the details of the collective bargaining agreement.

(Last July, she cited the “incredible training" available to employees.)

“Do they have health benefits as part of union membership?” Veconi followed up.

“No,” responded Cotton.

“Any options in terms of a savings plan, employer contributions?” he continued.

“I don't know but can get back to you,” Cotton responded.

Worker training

“Will there be with B2"--the first tower, now under construction--"the type of pre-apprenticeship training program that was initially promised for the Atlantic Yards project as a whole?” he asked.  (See part IV of the CBA.)

“The apprenticeship programs working with construction trades are all being developed right now," Cotton responded, "so I think the short answer is yes, but more details are coming.”

Given the closure of CBA signatory Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), “is there any party that taken the place of BUILD,” Veconi asked, responsible for managing the training.

“BUILD is not going to get replaced,” Cotton said, “but the entire CBA monitors us on a regular basis, particularly Charlene Nimmons [of Public Housing Communities], who was one of the key stakeholders and partners in the success of [the arena hiring].” 

Forest City has announced plans for working with (updated: not clearly apprenticeships) three existing job-training organizations. That raises the question of whether BUILD served more as a cheerleader than anything else, and whether there will be pre-apprenticeship training as described in the CBA.

From the press release:
FCRC and Skanska will work with the labor unions and organizations like Non-Traditional Employment for Women, Helmets to Hardhats, Construction Skills 2000 and Brooklyn Workforce Innovation at the Navy Yard’s Employment Center to attract local workers and others to diversify the workforce in a continuation of goals established in the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement.
The monitor again

"Are there plans or is is there a date on which you will hire an Independent Compliance Monitor?” Veconi followed up.

" I don't have a date,” Cotton said.

If the CBA were really monitoring Forest City. well, wouldn't Veconi would have gotten a different answer? (Remember how ACORN's Bertha Lewis in 2006 claimed the monitor would oversee implementation? Or how a year ago they said it was coming?)

The lack of oversight, and the Columbia contrast

Forest City has gotten very little criticism of its failure to fulfill the minimal CBA responsibility of hiring an Independent Compliance Monitor. Project supporters like Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who cite the CBA as the reason for their support, don't follow up, while project opponents have not made it a crusade.

Consider the contrast with the CBA related to Columbia University's expansion, which both has a dollar figure attached far larger--$76 million over 16 years--as well as distribution through a process that appears to have more more transparency.

And even with that, it's provoked significant criticisms, notably from City Council candidate Vince Morgan, who recently wrote to supporters:
"The former chairman of Manhattan Community Board 9, Attorney Larry English, has joined my mission to secure the $2 billion in jobs, benefits and contracts for minorities and local Harlem residents. He has also written a letter to the Empire State Development Corporation, requesting that the agency fulfill its responsibility to the Harlem Community."
English, in his letter, noted the failure, in five years, to hire an independent monitor required under the CBA, and asked the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the state agency overseeing both the Columbia and Atlantic Yards plans, to enforce the CBA.

Morgan subsequently wrote:
"Following my appeal to the Empire Development State Corporation, the agency has agreed to review Columbia University's hiring of Minority, Women and Local Firms on the Manhattanville expansion. This is just the first step in my mission to hold Columbia accountable to its promise of 7000 jobs and $2 billion in contracts and benefits. I have deep concerns that Columbia is distorting its reports by relying on hiring local majority firms to the exclusion of local minority firms. Columbia should take the initiative of releasing which firms have been given contracts and the dollar amount. I will not stop until every job, every contract, every in-kind benefit owed to Harlem is secured. "
The state agency has since announced it would request more details regarding Columbia's hiring record.

Is this more than what's been asked regarding Atlantic Yards?

I can't quite compare the two, but the dynamic is different: there's no one challenging the self-reporting regarding Atlantic Yards, despite defense of the Atlantic Yards CBA by signatory Bertha Lewis, who said it calls for an independent monitoring body that “does not have a dog in this fight” to oversee implementation.

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