Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Atlantic Yards CBA promised a path to union apprenticeships. Instead, BUILD's coveted program provoked a bitter lawsuit.

This article is long, but the initial sections provide a summary.

For many Brooklynites, the first element of the Atlantic Yards holy trinity—“jobs, housing, and hoops,” as announced in December 2003—ranked first. A well-paying construction job would be a ticket to the middle-class and a secure future.

For years, the prospect of such jobs, helping build an arena and 16 towers, animated the constant, bumptious presence of unionized construction workers at rallies and public hearings.

That prospect also drew more than 8,000 people—many of them underemployed or unemployed black men—to the offices and meetings of Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), a group Assemblyman Roger Green helped organize in late 2003 to provide job training at Atlantic Yards and offer "community" validation for a project that would bypass local oversight.

After years of demolition and utility work, the Barclays Center began construction in March 2010. Local workers were hired, but there was no role yet for many who put huge hopes in the project, backing BUILD at rallies and hearings.

Such hopes drew more than 1,200 people, some lining up at 3 am, to an August 2010 information meeting for a long-promised pre-apprentice training program (PATP). The program would enroll 36 construction trainees for 15 increasingly fractious weeks.

It was the first and only cohort in a program once aimed to “address the problem of long-term disproportionately high unemployment in the Community,” according to the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner signed with BUILD and seven other groups, trumpeted as a new paradigm for community engagement (and the first CBA in the city).

James Caldwell at Senate oversight hearing,
May 29, 2009. Photo by Tracy Collins
That PATP, which graduated the trainees in December 2010 but sent none to union apprenticeships, is now the subject of a bitter lawsuit filed by 20 former trainees, who charge Forest City and BUILD with “avarice, duplicity and hubris” and seek compensation for the careers they say were promised and the unpaid training that went awry.

The lawsuit faces a crucial hearing in federal court in Brooklyn tomorrow at noon. (Update: here's coverage of the hearing, where a judge raised questions about attempts to tie BUILD and Forest City.)

Defense lawyers for Forest City, BUILD, and named executives lay most of the blame on BUILD CEO James Caldwell (a defendant) and colleagues for promising the trainees careers with robust wages and solid benefits.

The court record shows Forest City’s executives—one of whom agitatedly declared “THEY WORK FOR US”—disclaiming responsibility for Caldwell’s extravagant promises, though also not intervening when they might have.

The court record, extensive though incomplete, portrays a dysfunctional relationship between BUILD and Forest City, which between 2005 and 2012 provided over $1.2 million for operations. It reveals--behind BUILD's reliable public support for Atlantic Yards--mixed messages, miscommunication, threats, backbiting, and a spotty pattern of oversight.

High hopes for the program

The CBA scroll in BUILD's office
The pre-apprentice students—some in their 20s, others in their 40s and even 50s—approached the PATP with optimism, depositions show. They knew they were devoting 15 weeks to a program that offered no pay, and most (though not all) didn’t expect a stipend, lunch, or a MetroCard, which some better-established programs provided.

A job would be the reward, a path out of intermittent work in retail or home health care or non-union construction. Some had significant construction experience, eleven with more than a decade, seven with more than 20 years.

After all, the training was part of the CBA, the first ever in New York, a document signed enthusiastically by Mayor Mike Bloomberg. (His role was merely as a witness, not a potential enforcer; four years later, he'd blast CBAs as "extortion.")

In BUILD offices, images of the CBA—photos from the signing ceremony, a poster-sized, parchment-style scroll—served a totemic function, as some households might honor Jesus or JFK.

Some trainees—each required to buy work boots and hard hats—couldn’t raise transit fare. Lloyd Matthews, a 43-year-old with a baby at home, would walk 3.5 miles from Bedford-Stuyvesant to a 7 am class at BUILD’s office at Hudson Avenue and Fulton Street (aka 10 MetroTech), a facility Forest City provided free.

Forest City paid for the life-skills training at BUILD’s office, and the construction skills workshop in a classroom nearby at 1 MetroTech, the tower which houses FCR headquarters.

At the peppy 7 am life-skills class based on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, instructor Greg Tyner, a tough-minded former prison guard, told everybody they’d become union members and, ultimately, millionaires, according to trainee Pascal Armstrong. (The limited excerpt from Tyner's deposition don't address this.)

Such promises echoed those by Caldwell, Chief Operating Officer Marie Louis, and others tied to BUILD. At least once a week, Caldwell would reassure the students “everything was OK... I got it secured, we're good,” Armstrong recalled in his deposition.

Another BUILD staffer, Chantel Lewis, even asked students to pick their preferred union. "Everybody from BUILD made the statements, every last one,” according to Armstrong.

A snag emerges

Weeks into the PATP, there was a snag. Forest City had not found a site for hands-on training, despite the developer’s obligation, under the PATP contract, to find space “for the programmatic and administrative operations.” Students signed a petition seeking hands-on work.

Construction skills instructor Gausia Jones, who ran a small contracting company called Orbin’s Big Green Machine but initially showed up at BUILD hoping for a job at the arena, had an idea. The trainees could work at a house in Staten Island, where he’d been hired by a high school friend to create a basement apartment. Caldwell and Louis gave the plan their verbal agreement, at some point informing Forest City.

The trainees, some under protest, signed an "Off Site Hands On Agreement" (right) discharging BUILD and Orbin's from any liability with respect to injury, and confirming they didn't expect additional stipends or wages for services provided. (Their lawyers say you can't waive your rights to be paid.) Jones laid off his usual crew of four to six people.

The situation fueled disgruntlement, according to the trainees. Jones didn’t show up on time or even at all. (Jones, in his deposition, denied the latter.) He suggested shortcuts, some helpful, others questionable. Some trainees said they learned from him, others didn't. One experienced student became an ad hoc instructor. The space was too cramped to fit half the class.

“That was when people started getting discouraged,” recounted Matthews in a deposition, one of dozens excerpted in the record. “Nobody was getting paid to come there. We didn’t have no money… Just regular human problems was stopping people from coming.” (Though it wasn’t in the program budget, Caldwell ultimately shifted funds from another BUILD account to pay for MetroCards.)

Jones began telling the students they’d get their union books, which prove membership, Matthews recalled. (It's not clear from the Jones deposition excerpts I've seen whether he confirmed or denied this, but Jones's lawyers have denied it and say plaintiff' expected to receive union cards via BUILD, not Jones. They seek dismissal of the case against him.)

Still, students complained about payment and work conditions. Caldwell aborted the hands-on component a few weeks before the 15-week program ended. The apartment was left unfinished, cascading troubles for Jones, who couldn’t get his crew back. The pipes broke for lack of insulation. The property owner sued him. He faced fines.

No student got a union construction job from the program. A couple gained union positions on their own, while others, not in the lawsuit, found jobs—after Forest City scrambled to help, likely operating with some mix of obligation and damage control—in retail or building maintenance at the developer’s properties.

What Forest City Ratner told the trainees about their future prospects remains contested. Some plaintiffs say executive Jane Marshall, in an orientation speech, also promised they’d get jobs and union cards. Others don’t recall. Others corroborate Marshall’s account that she offered general encouragement.

Did BUILD go rogue?

How much were Forest City and BUILD in sync? In Forest City’s telling—corroborated by Caldwell, who, after BUILD folded in 2012, was retained by the developer—BUILD went rogue in making promises to the trainees.

(Though Caldwell's interests and Forest City's interests are not necessarily the same, Forest City, BUILD, Caldwell, and the two Forest City executives named as defendants--Bruce Ratner and Jane Marshall--share the same legal representation, paid for by the developer.)

Caldwell (c.) at Nov. 30, 2010 MetroTech tree lighting.
Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey
The plaintiffs say that Forest City and BUILD are in damage control, making Caldwell the fall guy. They cite confrontational messages from not only Caldwell but also Louis, who died in late 2011 before she turned 40, charging Forest City with backing off a commitment.

They point to the developer’s willingness to overlook red flags regarding BUILD. They invoke the group’s long history supporting Atlantic Yards—evidence that Forest City’s lawyers say is irrelevant to the narrow legal issues at stake.

Forest City says it never authorized Caldwell or anyone else to promise union membership or jobs, while the plaintiffs say the $134,571 contract for the PAPT between Forest City and BUILD—which apparently contains some contradictory language—authorized such promises.

Murkiness remains; were BUILD and FCR "joint employers"?

Much remains murky. Depositions are excerpted, presumably cherry-picked, and can clash with email evidence. The key document—the PATP contract—has been excerpted, not made public.

Large sums of money are at stake. That likely fuels (in part) Forest City's effort to narrow the charges, which could shunt more damages to BUILD, now defunct, contractor Orbin’s, now inactive, and Caldwell and Jones, who likely have modest assets.

To be successful, the plaintiffs must not only link BUILD with its main funder in a colloquial sense but also as “joint employers” under federal labor law.

Though standards are broad, the argument isn’t easy. “Plaintiffs have not cited a single case,” Forest City lawyers say, “in which a company that funded a non-profit program has been deemed a joint employer of the non-profit’s purported employees.”

By contrast, the plaintiffs’ attorneys say the PATP was performed “for a business purpose,” including training people to work at Atlantic Yards. They also argue that Forest City benefited from the PATP because it needed BUILD to garner community support--though that support had been achieved, at least by 2010.

The hearing tomorrow is not a trial, with witnesses, but rather a preliminary step: arguments over Forest City’s motions for summary judgment. (It’s at U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, 225 Cadman Plaza E., Judge John Gleeson, Courtroom 6C South.)

Once the case is narrowed slightly or significantly, the adversaries can better assess the value of the claims. (Another pre-trial issue, subject of another hearing, concerns the defense effort to exclude the testimony of a plaintiffs’ expert, who estimated the potential value of the trainees' lost years of union labor, but, according to the defense, was too optimistic.)

The case likely won’t end in a trial but rather a settlement. After all, the parties have already discussed settlement, according to court records, and a lingering lawsuit piles up more legal fees.

According to the plaintiffs, arguing that the charges in the case should proceed to trial:
This case turns on: (1) whether Defendant Caldwell reasonably believed he was authorized to promise PATP graduates that they would become union members upon graduation on behalf of the Forest City Defendants; (2) whether Plaintiffs reasonably believed that Defendant Caldwell was authorized to make such promises; (3) whether Defendant Marshall, an FCRC executive, made those same promises (she says she did not, others say she did); and (4) whether the precise details and nature of the relationship between the Forest City and BUILD Defendants means they should be considered joint employers. These questions can only be answered by drawing inferences from the documentary and circumstantial evidence and making credibility findings. Much of that evidence is contested. Some is not. What cannot be denied, however, is that the factual record is amenable to a host of plausible interpretations that are fundamentally inimical to summary disposition. They should be saved for the appropriate forum—a trial.
The defense replies that Forest City and its executives were not joint employers with BUILD and thus not liable for any unpaid wages, and that the breach of contract—regarding promises of union careers—does not apply to more than half the plaintiffs:
The straightforward issues before the Court are whether BUILD was engaged in commercial activities, whether Forest City, Marshall and Ratner exercised operational control over the PATP, and whether eleven plaintiffs received any promises from Forest City or its officers that they would receive jobs and union membership upon completion of the program. When plaintiffs’ irrelevant, speculative allegations are cast aside, it is clear, based on the undisputed evidence that remains, that defendants are not liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Laws (for BUILD and Caldwell, in part) and that eleven plaintiffs have no claims relating to breach of promises by the Forest City defendants.

Refuting the "modern blueprint" of the CBA, at least

If it ends in settlement, Andrew Apple, et al. vs. Atlantic Yards Development Company, et al. may never face a full public reckoning, with witnesses facing cross-examination.

The existing legal file—hundreds of pages of motions, deposition excerpts, email messages, and other documents—may offer the most detailed portrait, however incomplete.

(I’ve spent $250+ to acquire the case file via PACER, which charges 10 cents/page for up to 30 pages. )

The case surely refutes the strained New York Times effort, in a front-page Oct. 14, 2005 article by rising reporter Nicholas Confessore, to suggest that Atlantic Yards’ “seemingly inexorable movement suggests that Mr. Ratner is creating a new and finely detailed modern blueprint for how to nourish - and then harvest - public and community backing.”

BUILD, despite lying about when it was paid by Forest City, got a pass in that Times article. The triumphal narrative persisted. Forest City executives would suggest in court papers that the Community Benefits Agreement might “set a standard for future projects” in New York and nationally.

Clearly, it hasn’t.

Atlantic Yards flyer, 2007
After all, a consultant Forest City hired, in a report never made public but cited in this lawsuit, confirmed the common critique of the CBA: most signatories had no track record but were set up to support the project.

That consultant, Ritchie Tye, reported no grant-writer for CBA groups could be hired, because, in part, people thought the groups were "fronts" for the developer. (Only a few had funding bases outside that of Forest City.)

The lawsuit thus spotlights the absence of the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the CBA to evaluate both Forest City’s performance and that of its partners.

When asked in a Jan. 16, 2013 deposition why the monitor wasn’t hired, Bruce Ratner, the company’s then-CEO and now Chairman, punted: “I can’t really answer why not.”

That monitor might have reported the delay in starting the PATP, or how the PATP, in comparison with similar programs, was done on the cheap.

Such oversight would have followed up on comments by people like Anthony Wright, a Brooklyn man who passionately testified at a 2006 hearing that he didn’t just believe—he knew—that Atlantic Yards could change lives, thanks to “the apprenticeship programs.”



The monitor might even have learned that Forest City was warned Caldwell exaggerated and that people recruited by BUILD—many with little education—might elide the gap between the group and its main funder.

One trainee, asked by defense attorneys if anyone from Forest City had set his work schedule—a key test for “joint employer”—responded, “Well, they had Mr. Caldwell there as a representative of Ratner.” (The plaintiffs’ attorneys say Forest City maintained supervisory control over the PATP.)

Another plaintiff concluded that information coming from Caldwell “was coming from a higher power, which was Ratner.… It was Ratner sponsoring this whole program, not Caldwell.”

The monitor might have followed up on an ominous word—“disconnect”—that pops up in legal papers regarding what BUILD and Forest City expected of the promised, delayed, and much-desired PATP.

Promises in the CBA

The Community Benefits Agreement, signed June 27, 2005, was described, time and again, by Forest City and supporters as “legally binding,” as if the form of a contract guaranteed execution.

But enforcement could only come from the parties themselves, and most depended financially on Forest City. (In some other CBAs, government is a partner, enhancing enforceability.)

Regarding the PATP, the agreement (on p. 13) sounds promising: “Commencing upon execution of this Agreement, Developer and BUILD shall initiate and coordinate a job training program to train Community residents for construction jobs within the Arena and Project and, as necessary, to assist those residents with obtaining GED certificates.”




As indicated in the excerpt above, one of BUILD's multiple initiatives, listed in an appendix to the CBA, was aimed to deliver construction jobs for a PATP.

Other initiatives, shown at right, included training for youth and young adults, an ambitious set of plans for an organization with no track record and one leader with no history in social service nonprofits.

Still, the training program was important enough to trigger the only specific monetary penalties in the CBA: “If at completion of construction of each Development Phase,” the compliance monitor determines the developer had shirked its obligations, Forest City would have to pay the CBA Executive Committee $500,000 for BUILD to run the PATP.

Even if a compliance monitor existed, that clause might have little teeth. After all, Phase 1, which includes the arena block and three to five towers, isn’t complete, with only the arena finished.

The CBA indicates Forest City would negotiate with the New York City Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC), the umbrella organization for construction unions, for a project labor agreement, or PLA. “It is the intention”—a tantalizing term—“of the Developers that the Trades Council will accept workers from the Pre-Apprentice Training initiative into the Trade Council’s apprentice program.”



Today, Forest City says BUILD’s PATP was supposed to prepare trainees not for apprentice slots but another pre-apprentice program. In a December 2012 deposition, Forest City executive Sonya Covington stated, “The CBA is actually not clear at all about what the pre-apprentice training program was supposed to provide.”

The path to apprenticeship

Though the CBA was executed in June 2005, Forest City’s efforts—helping BUILD find space and “adequate public and/or private funding” for the PATP—would be delayed, likely in part because of an emerging new landscape regarding pre-apprenticeship training.

Union workers start as apprentices, climbing a ladder for three to five years to reach journeyman status, their wages rising with experience. Pre-apprentice training via BUILD would offer a precious on-ramp to the unions, an alternative to two main pathways.

One pathway is a lottery, which pops up only every two or three years. Last year, some would-be Carpenters Union members slept on the street for days just to get a ticket.

Another pathway is a targeted PATP. Non-Traditional Employment for Women (NEW) recruits women. Helmets to Hardhats (H2H) helps ex-soldiers. And Construction Skills 2000 (CS 2000, now called the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills) aims at public high school graduates with decent grades and solid attendance.

The intentions in the CBA, which aimed at a broader group of trainees, likely met a crushing reality, though it’s not stated in the legal papers I’ve seen. A few months after the CBA was ratified, on October 5, 2005, Bloomberg, other elected officials, and construction industry leaders announced new plans to reserve 40% of the apprenticeship slots outside the lottery “for veterans, women, high school graduates, and economically disadvantaged New Yorkers” coming out of established PATPs.

That surely undermined Forest City’s chances to establish a separate pathway, through the fledgling BUILD.

No PATP via BUILD had been launched by 2009, when the city, employers, and the BCTC agreed to reserve 45% of slots outside the lottery, including 5% for employees of certified minority- or women-owned businesses.

That left even less room for BUILD, even as it amassed names of people hungry for work and energized by the promise of Atlantic Yards.

Caldwell's path to BUILD

James Caldwell, who ritually thanks Jesus Christ before he speaks at public hearings, believes in Atlantic Yards so much that he says Bruce Ratner was like “an angel sent by god.” Raised in the Jim Crow South, Caldwell came north to join his family. He chose the military over college, he’s said, to support his mother and sisters. After six years in the U.S. Army—a commitment he invokes with pride—he worked selling cars.

Relying in part on disability payments, Caldwell had been retired eight years when Atlantic Yards was announced in 2003, and busy enough with volunteer work, he said in a Dec. 11, 2012 deposition. He headed his block association, he helped at a church bookstore and, most prominently, he led the Community Council for the 77th Precinct, a district stretching some three miles from gentrified Prospect Heights (and part of the Atlantic Yards site) east to Ralph Avenue, traversing increasingly rugged Crown Heights and Community Board 8.

Caldwell changed his mind about BUILD, he recalled in his folksy style, “’cause I seen that they was trying to do something positive for the community.” BUILD “was an opportunity for me to give them hope,” he said of young men he saw facing the crush of idleness and the temptations of the street.

“We see big buildings going up, we ain’t got a clue to what they are, because ain’t nobody ever invited us to the table,” Caldwell said of Forest City’s outreach in 2003, conducted by the developer’s new hire, former Green aide Randall Touré. “I felt it was good… somebody was letting us know what was going on in our community.”

Caldwell also was shown a significant amount of deference and respect, a big issue for him. Nearly everyone calls him “Mr. Caldwell” and even Louis, his close colleague, called him “Mr. C.”

Caldwell was invited to BUILD after the organization was formed, to join Darnell Canada and Eric Blackwell, both from the Fort Greene area, lacking Caldwell's Crown Heights connections.

In March 2004, Canada left BUILD, claiming—ominously but vaguely—he needed to distance himself from others “who see this organization as financial self gain,” and founded ReBUILD, also focused on jobs. (He died in May 2011.) Blackwell told me that he’d pushed for funding to equip BUILD to better negotiate with the developer.

After Blackwell left, Caldwell was in charge, with Louis, a Crown Heights-raised daughter of Haitian immigrants who’d gone to Barnard College Columbia University and committed to a social service career in her community.

Caldwell didn’t know Louis, but her colleagues at Community Counseling and Mediation—a social service agency focused on poor and working-poor African American, Caribbean and Latino children and families—were familiar to him.
Psalm 27 from the BUILD web site

Caldwell and Louis built BUILD on commitment, ambition, likely some expectation of reward, and, notably, fervent faith.

"Faith & Prayer Works!!" proclaimed the BUILD web site, which included an adaptation of Psalm 27, substituting "BUILD" for "my" in the first line.

Still, they cut corners. The BUILD board included no job-training experts, but rather neighbors Caldwell trusted. The board never produced minutes.

BUILD: support on the outside belies tension

In the early years, BUILD had no money for job training, it could hold meetings and speak at rallies. Staffers gathered the names of job-seekers into a database and offered job counseling. In January 2005, surely at Forest City’s request, BUILD even signed one of five amicus briefs backing the use of eminent domain by the city of New London in the contested Kelo case. (Joining BUILD were the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, another CBA signatory, and the Carpenters Union.)

For office space, BUILD hustled. Caldwell and Louis reached into their wallets and also organized a rent party. They got “creative,” in Caldwell’s telling, gaining space in 2004 from Congressional candidate Tracy Boyland in exchange for supporting her unsuccessful challenge to Rep. Major Owens. (Non-profits can’t do partisan work, according to the Internal Revenue Service.)

Before the CBA was signed, however, tensions emerged. In an email May 16, 2005 to Touré (and his boss, Atlantic Yards point man Jim Stuckey), Caldwell suggested the emerging document didn’t describe job development obligations at the level of Forest City’s housing promise.

"Our uncompromising support for this project has caused some to brand us as ‘sell-outs’ and ‘Uncle Toms,’” he wrote. “It is outrageous to suggest that we should blindly sign an agreement that does not reflect the substance of what we have discussed.”

“Dealing in the corporate realm you understand that if you don’t have a written agreement that spells out particulars you don’t have anything,” Caldwell declared, in a letter likely written by a colleague better versed in professional syntax. After spending its political capital, he noted, BUILD merited commitments for its initiatives.

Had BUILD and Forest City paid greater attention to the notion of a “written agreement” throughout their relation, the pending lawsuit might never have been brought.

Ten days later, on May 26, 2005, Caldwell remained on message, testifying in favor of Atlantic Yards at a City Council hearing. “Every time you see two black males walking down the street, one of them don't have a job,” he said. “And I'm not ashamed to sit here and say that we are happy to be at the table to negotiate for our community for jobs.”

BUILD at left; April 2006 photo by AYR
“So to come here and say that Forest City Ratner is using us is totally ridiculous,” he added, jabbing back at project opponents, “Let me tell you something, people in our community, they don't care how tall no building is, they need a job.”

After the CBA was signed in June 2005, Forest City came through with free space, initially at 640 Pacific Street, a building within the planned Atlantic Yards footprint that the developer had purchased but was not ready to demolish.

BUILD’s office, in an accidental irony, was next door to 636 Pacific, which contained the home of Daniel Goldstein, the only condo owner in his renovated building not to sell to Forest City, and the spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the leading opposition group to Atlantic Yards.

Getting the PATP towards a launch

BUILD looked to launch the on-ramp to the unions. In an email July 6, 2005, Louis sent Covington, the Forest City executive managing the CBA, an outline for the PATP, an ambitious “three-year demonstration project which will enroll 900 participants (300 per year) and place 700 in construction trades apprenticeships.”

The outline suggested a concerted effort to help the vulnerable, including the formerly incarcerated, public housing tenants, and youths existing foster care. The curriculum included GED preparation, work readiness, life skills, and introduction to construction trades.

In an email August 4, 2005, Covington offered a review by her and Darryl Greene, Forest City’s consultant on minority hiring. “I would think the best way to retain union buy-in to the PATP,” she wrote Louis, “is to have them be part of the curriculum development and the instructors.”

“Much of the work at this point is on our side,” Covington soon wrote to Louis, Touré, and Stuckey, Forest City had to meet with Ed Malloy, president of the BCTC, to get that union buy-in.

In an email September 8, 2005, Louis contacted Touré and others, saying BUILD had identified resources to pay program costs for a 30-person pilot, but needed Forest City to supply space. “CONGRATS!!” responded Covington enthusiastically, suggesting space would be ready.

BUILD faces critical spotlight

PATP, however, didn’t launch. Not only was Atlantic Yards provoking controversy in the press, Malloy and the unions were working out that different deal with Bloomberg, which would emerge in October. And BUILD would face a critical spotlight.

By August 2005, though it wasn’t made public at the time, Forest City wrote its first large check to BUILD: $100,000 for salaries.

Was BUILD funded in part because they assisted Forest City in moving the project forward? Yes, replied Covington, a veteran of both Forest City and the city’s Public Development Corporation, in her deposition. “They did a lot of community outreach for us,” including showing up at events where project opponents gathered.

 Louis on Brian Lehrer Live
When CUNY-TV host Brian Lehrer (best known for his WNYC radio show) asked Forest City for “a spokesperson, they referred us to your group," Lehrer told Louis in a Sept. 21, 2005 segment.

“Because they know that we're, first of all, we're one of their partners now especially since we signed the Community Benefits Agreement," responded Louis.

"So to what extent, just by way of full disclosure, is your group funded by Forest City Ratner?" Lehrer asked.

"Wow, I mean, we are not funded by Forest City Ratner,” Louis responded with incredulity, adding that it was “interesting to us, especially many folks coming from communities of color, you know, we wonder why is it that folks think that we cannot think for ourselves.”

While BUILD had not been funded by Forest City for most of its existence, Louis, it turned out, had misled her interviewer.

Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn had discovered that BUILD had told the Internal Revenue Service it expected $5 million from Forest City Ratner over two years, with six-figure salaries for Caldwell and Louis. They fed the document to Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, who on Sept. 29, 2005 broke the story. Council Member Letitia James, an Atlantic Yards opponent, suggested it raised conflicts of interest.

Both Louis and Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco denied that the developer was helping BUILD beyond free office space, though they both confirmed—wrongly, it turned out—Forest City would soon fund BUILD’s job-training program. Louis said the $5 million figure was an estimate to cover the training.

The charges against BUILD were exaggerated, but news coverage established that BUILD had lied; Forest City in June had paid the group $10,000 to distribute copies of the promotional Brooklyn Standard and in August gave $100,000.

The Times, in its Oct. 14, 2005 “modern blueprint” article, reported the denials of Forest City funding, but failed to nail BUILD on the lies, adding blandly that DePlasco and a BUILD spokeswoman, Cheryl Duncan, merely “revised that account.”

A few days later, Gonzalez followed up, offering the piquant detail that residents of a women’s shelter had been paid for election work at BUILD offices by a group called Community Leadership for Accountable Politics, supporting Council Member James's opponent, former BUILD leader Blackwell. (James won easily.) CLAP, which a source later confirmed to me was BUILD’s political arm, soon vanished.

Though news outlets at the time reported that Forest City hired the Terrie Williams agency (which employed Duncan) to represent the CBA, Caldwell, in a deposition for this case, maintained that he didn’t know who hired the firm.

Still looking for PATP support

Forest City, perhaps unwilling to pay for job training itself, looked to the city. On April 27, 2006, Touré emailed Joe Chan, a senior advisor to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff (and later the founding head of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership) a proposal for a 14-week pilot of BUILD’s PATP. “This project is designed to fill apprentice opportunities generated by the first phase” of Atlantic Yards, the document stated. The $500,000 budget included $80/week stipends for 100 participants.

That didn’t work. Nor did a June 2006 effort by Council Member David Yassky, a white politico eager to reward black validators from BUILD in his race against three black candidates for the Congressional seat yielded by the departing Owens, to direct $3 million in city funds to BUILD, including $1.125 million for the PATP.

Alone among the press, New York Observer reporter Matthew Schuerman noticed the potential contradiction, writing July 5, 2006 that BUILD’s proposed program “would be so large” that “it would dominate the city’s apprenticeship system.” Moreover, BUILD’s effort to focus on low-income individuals, disconnected youth and those aging out of foster care would clash with the priorities Bloomberg announced.

Atlantic Yards, riding support from elected officials and community groups like BUILD, passed state muster at the end of 2006. Court challenges, however, stalled construction beyond demolition and utility work.

Still, the PATP percolated. On Jan. 23, 2007, Covington told Louis that Forest City was working with CityTech—a college in Downtown Brooklyn—on its component of the program. No more details were offered, and nothing came to fruition.

On March 14, 2007, Louis by email introduced a staffer to Covington, Touré, and Stuckey, saying Shelton Jones was “very excited about coming on board to manage” the PATP. If funding emerged, the program could launch in April.

It didn’t, and Forest City faced some changes. In June 2007, Stuckey departed abruptly, purportedly to seek new challenges but—as the New York Post later reported—in the wake of internal allegations regarding sexual harassment.

Before Stuckey left, Touré put BUILD in touch with the Consortium for Worker Education (CWE), which was administering a City Council-funded program called Jobs To Build On. CWE allotted BUILD $150,000.

Stuckey’s successor, MaryAnne Gilmartin, decided in 2008 to hire consultant Ritchie Tye to evaluate CBA signatories. The recession, combined with the cloud of legal cases regarding the project, forced Forest City to reassess project costs, trading starchitect Frank Gehry’s elaborate arena design for a smaller building untethered to four towers.

In 2009, with an eye on spending, Forest City successfully renegotiated settled deals with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Empire State Development.



Caldwell remained reliable. “The peoples that I brought here today—they do not have work in the community,” he stated, asking the MTA to compromise with Forest City. “Unfortunately, elected officials don’t do enough in our community. So, yes, we go to Mr. Ratner, asking for help to make our community better and to create jobs.”

Gilmartin speaks at Q&A; photo by Adrian Kinloch
At a highly-charged public Q&A session July 22, 2009, Forest City’s Gilmartin was asked to comment on why federal stimulus funds had been requested to help with the construction of the arena.

“It’s shovel-ready construction,” shouted Louis from the audience, prompting Gilmartin to echo her.

The federal eminent domain suit was dismissed in November 2009 and a complex master closing, with hundreds of documents to be signed, held the next month. The Barclays Center groundbreaking, a huge, glitzy production, would be set for March 11, 2010.

That date would precede the promised PATP.

Arena groundbreaking proceeds, but what about PATP?

On March 4, 2010, a week before the groundbreaking, Gilmartin sent an encouraging message to Caldwell, proposing a meeting with Greene’s Darman Group to review procedures for filling minority jobs across the various trades.

“I recognize this [PATP] has been long-awaited,” she wrote. “Because of FCRC’s advocacy, we are confident the Trades Council is willing to commit to accept a number of qualified graduates from BUILD’s Pre-Apprentice program into the Trade Council’s apprenticeship program despite the great recession and the lack of plentiful union work.”

On March 10, 2010, Louis forwarded to Forest City a draft program narrative and budget. Gilmartin, Greene, and Marshall—and along with Greene’s daughter and colleague Yvette Greene Dennis and Forest City construction chief Bob Sanna—met with BUILD’s Caldwell and Louis.

Dennis yielded to BUILD’s concern that placements at the construction site via Forest City’s on-site Community Labor Exchange (CLE) weren’t going to people tied to BUILD. She recommended that some slots be reserved.

At the time, Forest City, according to meeting minutes, contemplated a direct path from BUILD’s PATP to the unions. “[I]was discussed that the focus should be on placing graduates of the pre-apprenticeship training program with the apprenticeships of the following unions,” the minutes said, listing six unions. Forest City would meet with the relevant business agents to ensure those slots.

On March 18, 2010, Covington shared the PATP draft with Chuck Baldwin of Turner Construction, a major Forest City contractor, asking for a “reality check.”

Dissatisfaction with Caldwell surfaces

Dissatisfaction with Caldwell, however, surfaced. On March 30, 2010, Dennis emailed Covington, reporting that a source told her Caldwell had hired someone uncertified to do OSHA training, and “the threat of going to the police and or the DA was mentioned…. There are more and more aggressive folks coming over here [to the CLE, presumably] getting mad and tearing up applications saying it is BS.”

“Hope you are having as much fun as I am,” Dennis wrote in closing.

“I am actually having more!!!!” responded Covington.

“No way,” Dennis BlackBerried back. “There is no greater fun than Niggas. Hahahahahahaha.”

(It’s tricky to interpret in-group slang—Covington and Dennis are both black, and I’m not—especially when the term at issue can be a sometimes affectionate variation on a slur. But Dennis didn’t sound flattering.)

Dennis emailed Covington the next morning to say a source told her Caldwell told a group of job-seekers he was waiting for federal stimulus funds to start the PATP, and his sources for jobs "came from the 'high above.' That he knew people and that's how he himself is operating business rent free. He made plenty of promises that they would all get jobs."

As of March 31, 2010, Covington was asked, was Caldwell considered reliable?

“I think he said things to keep people interested in the project, and believing that they were going to get jobs somewhere,” she responded.

Did she forward Dennis’s warning about Caldwell to colleagues? No, she said, calling it hearsay.

In a message to Gilmartin on April 16, 2010, Covington compared BUILD’s program to that run by Non-Traditional Employment for Women. NEW had a waiver that got its graduates into apprenticeships, but BUILD’s PATP seemed more extensive.

“I thought the program stacked up well agst NEW, did you??” Gilmartin responded.

BUILD expresses grievance about delay



Caldwell was getting fed up. In an email April 30, 2010, he appealed to Gilmartin and Marshall, saying he and Louis concluded that, “with all the postponements of meetings and no available space,” the PATP seemed unlikely.

BUILD, he reminded her, “always responded” to Forest City's requests, “but all we get from your Company is excuses. I put my reputation as a Community leader on the line defending this project for over six years. BUILD always delivered for FCRC, the question now, will FCRC deliver for the Community.” (A response is not, as far as I know, in the case file.)

BUILD and Forest City apparently wrangled about the emerging PATP contract. In an email dated June 16, 2010, Louis said Forest City refused to include language stating “The Owner will work with the Consultant to place participants who successfully complete the program in an apprenticeship program.”

Rather, Sanna got 200 slots reserved for BUILD referrals to the existing union apprenticeship programs. The unions, Sanna said in his Jan. 8, 2013 deposition, were wary of a new program.

Forest City, he acknowledged, didn’t push on the "intention" in the CBA: “I think it was our judgment that anything that would go back and require several different unions to go back to their membership probably wouldn’t survive and we wouldn’t get the [PLA] done.”

Pinning down the agreement--or not

How can Forest City be sure that that BUILD knew its PATP wouldn’t feed union apprenticeships?

According to the plaintiffs, the evidence was limited to the PATP Contract and the Project Labor Agreement (PLA). The latter, sent to Caldwell in May 2007, contained a side letter saying that BUILD could provide referrals the three existing pre-apprenticeship programs. But the document didn't mention BUILD’s PATP, according to the plaintiffs.

That's not clear. Actually, a preliminary version of the PLA, posted by the Mechanical Contractors Association of New York, seems to reference BUILD’s program, saying, “Contractors will employ apprentices who have successfully completed Developer’s pre-apprenticeship training program.”

Caldwell--who says in his deposition that his complaints to Forest City were merely "strong-arming" the developer--seems an unreliable witness. Still, defense attorneys rely on him, stating that “[o]ne simple, undisputed fact” shows Caldwell had no authority to make promises:
Caldwell testified under oath that as of June 2010 (before both the Covington letter and the PATP Contract cited by plaintiffs), Forest City advised him that PATP participants were not guaranteed union membership.
That July 2010 contract—which has not been made public, just excerpted—had elements encouraging to BUILD, stating that “upon completion of the 15-week program, participants will enter an apprenticeship in the construction trade,” note the plaintiffs.

However, say defense lawyers, the contract specifies that graduates were meant the Trades Council's 120 apprentice slots, via the three union programs.

The plaintiff’s brief counters that, beyond those 120 openings, the contract says BUILD and Forest City will meet with unions “to negotiate and secure additional apprentice opportunities for participants.”

If BUILD’s program was meant to feed existing PATPs, it didn’t deserve the acronym. Asked if it was correct to call it pre-pre-apprenticeship, Covington acknowledged, “You could say that.”

Mixed signals continued. The agenda for a June 17, 2010 meeting with BUILD aimed to identify “30 suitable candidates from BUILD database” for referral to the three established PATPs.


Handwritten notes (apparently prepared by Forest City) described BUILD’s program as including 100 hours of life skills training and 160 hours of site safety credentials and hands-on construction.

Louis—in contrast to the Caldwell portrayed in defense papers—was enthused. Forest City’s plan, she wrote, “creates a wonderful way to complement the PATP we are hoping to launch soon.” BUILD’s initiative would enroll adult men, some who lacked a high school diploma or GED, otherwise ineligible for the three established programs.

Covington responded moments later, copying numerous colleagues. “We are all hopeful,” she wrote, “as we move toward this major milestone of the CBA and welcome this opportunity to further our partnership with BUILD.”

She made no effort to disabuse Louis of the notion—as Forest City executives later insisted in depositions—that the BUILD program they were funding stressed life skills and could never feed apprentice positions.

Letter in court file has annotation "inaccurate"
Forest City disclaimed knowledge that BUILD's PATP might turn into a bait-and-switch.

Asked about Louis’s "wonderful way to complement” statement, Marshall, in her Feb. 8, 2013 deposition, said, “I don't know what she means by that.”

In an Aug. 4, 2010 letter on company letterhead to the New York City Department of Small Business Services, Covington wrote to support funding for one PATP element.

“Following successful program completion, graduates are to be placed in union Apprenticeship positions,” she wrote, in what she and colleagues later said was inaccurate.

Hunger for the PATP

The hunger for union construction jobs persisted: more than 1200 people attended BUILD's Aug. 4. 2010 PATP information session, held at St. Theresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church on Classon Avenue. Some lined up as early as 3 am, Caldwell wrote in an email to several Forest City executives.

Caldwell also forwarded the message directly to Ratner. The CEO thanked him and replied, indefinitely, “We must think thru this jobless problem plaguing our city and country.”

Gilmartin, writing to colleagues, was alarmed, seemingly by the contrast between community desperation and the program’s modest capacity: “Today is an example of how poorly Mr. Caldwell manages expectations and he sets himself up for failure.”

Covington observed, “This was a total set up to try to make us look bad for there only being 30 slots in the pre-apprenticeship programs.”

The orientation was Aug. 24, 2010, at Forest City-supplied office space at One MetroTech, including multiple introductions by BUILD officials and instructors. Caldwell, according to multiple depositions, including his own, said that graduates would get union jobs at the Atlantic Yards site. (He denied telling them they’d be millionaires.)

Jane Marshall, January, 2010, 78th Precinct Council
Meeting. Photo by Tracy Collins
Marshall visited briefly near the end. She declared, in her telling, “This is a partnership. We support BUILD. Good luck to everyone.” The arena, she reminded people, was part of a large project with 16,000 jobs over time.

Asked if she got a sense of the group’s race, gender, or age—the latter most relevant to whether BUILD could feed the three established programs—Marshall said, “I didn't notice any of that. I didn't focus on that.”

Some plaintiffs say they distinctly heard Marshall promise they’d go from the PATP to union jobs on the project. Others, under questioning, acknowledged their memories were fuzzy.

The plaintiffs, buttressing the argument that Caldwell believed he could make promises, say it’s reasonable to infer that he heard Marshall’s promises. That’s unfounded, say defense lawyers, noting that eleven of the 20 plaintiffs cited no promises from Marshall.

If the evidence regarding Marshall is murky, that regarding Ratner seems absent, as defense attorneys point out. In what seems a stretch, the plaintiffs’ attorneys tie those promises to Ratner’s involvement in creating the CBA, and directing his staff “regarding BUILD and the PATP.”

PATP begins, Forest City concerned

The PATP began Aug. 25, 2010, a day after the orientation. Trainees would first attend the 7 am class at BUILD offices, then go to 1 MetroTech for construction training or, later, travel to the Staten Island site and work from 9 am to 3 pm.

On Sept. 11, 2010, Covington asked Louis to report offer updates every two weeks. Five days later, Marshall asked Covington to chart overall job creation goals for the project.

”This is all fine,” construction chief Sanna responded peevishly. “But we need to be carefully we do not find ourselves ‘reporting’ to Build in particular, marie (yet another c ludlow)… [I] resent the manner in which she is demanding info and has created doubt about the genuine manner in which we have support from the community. Their security vendor prevailed over our objections yet they feel they have been marginalized.” (There's no more detail about this, but apparently BUILD pushed Forest City to hire a subcontractor.)

“THEY WORK FOR US,” Sanna continued.

(Sanna’s phrase "yet another c ludlow" refers, I'm fairly sure, to Charles Ludlow of STV, which was hired by Empire State Development to be its owner's representative to monitor construction and assess progress. Forest City didn't sound too receptive to such oversight.)

By this point, Forest City focused on getting BUILD grads into established PATPs. On Sept. 30, 2010, Marshall asked Louis for more details. “I do not think we can just ‘expect’ [the trainees] all to qualify” for the existing apprenticeship spots, she wrote. “I am getting an ulcer over this.”

Tensions heightened at an Oct. 5, 2010 meeting between Forest City and BUILD, according to minutes. Marshall wondered whether trainees could fit in the union programs. BUILD, countered Louis, had not focused on the criteria for those PATPs.

How, then, did she think BUILD trainees might get union slots? Louis said she thought “that was what [Forest City] was doing.” The union apprenticeship criteria, she said, didn’t accommodate BUILD’s main constituency: black men 20 to 35 years old.

Forest City said it would have the unions reserve 200 slots in existing PATPs for referrals from BUILD. “Expressing concern about how to manage the expectations of the program participants,” according to the minutes, Marshall again sought information about the trainees.

BUILD ramps up protest, Forest City goes Code Red

Later that day, Caldwell challenged Gilmartin. “I am very concerned about their [sic] being no construction jobs for BUILD Pre-Apprenticeship training students upon completion of the program in December,” he wrote in an email. “This is unacceptable. Up until this point we thought otherwise because of the CBA and the attached letter,” citing Covington’s letter from August.

“BUILD has bent over backwards to work with FCRC when others would not give you the time of day to help get the Project approved,” Caldwell continued. “I can’t look my Community straight in the eyes anymore.” Gilmartin, he suggested, should tell the unions they wouldn’t have work on Atlantic Yards had “it not been for our Community’s support.”

Caldwell reminded Gilmartin of the 2005 CBA signing event, when a reporter questioned Ratner and Bloomberg interrupted, saying Ratner was a man of his word. “The Community is waiting,” he wrote in closing.

Gilmartin coolly forwarded the letter to Marshall and Sanna, appending only a question mark. Marshall sent it to Covington, asking if she’d misspoke in that August letter.

”The intentions [sic] was that they would still have to go thru a union pre-apprenticeship program,” Covington responded.

Marshall, revving into Code Red, responded three minutes later: “Where is it explicitly stated either in emails or other documents that they HAD to go through union programs? We need documentation in ADDITION to plain fact because these people are snakes.”

“Always been discussion,” Covington responded. Marshall asked her to send documentation to Gilmartin because “with this group, and any CBA group, documentation is the key.”

Separately, Marshall in response to Gilmartin’s question mark: “I am just trying to a job [sic] that I am not qualified for. Please see earlier email I sent to you under DO NOT PANIC. When I calm down maybe I will respond.”

In his deposition, Caldwell backed off. Asked if he believed BUILD’s program could get people into union jobs, he said he was only trying to “strong-arm” Forest City: “That was my strategy. I was strong-arming them, you know, to try to get, you know, trying to help the community out.”

Given Forest City conceded to BUILD’s request to take age limits out of the contract, did that affect whether Caldwell thought the PATP would feed apprenticeships? (CS 2000 had an age limit.)

“No, no, no,” he responded. “I'm trying to look out for the peoples that supported me…. There was no teenagers that supported me. It was older peoples that supported me.”

Did Gilmartin, she was asked, think Caldwell was reliable in his statements?

“I don't think he's a detail man on these things,” she responded in her Feb. 6, 2013 deposition. (Caldwell, according to some plaintiffs, also claimed trainees “would have first preference” for the Atlantic Yards affordable housing.)

In his deposition, Caldwell offered something of a corroboration, saying Louis “is the one that did the day-to-day operation.”

And for all he invoked Forest City’s CEO, Caldwell acknowledged, “For the record, I rarely ever had conversation with Bruce Ratner himself. I deal with his representatives.”

Tensions increase

Tensions increased. On Oct. 12, 2010, Marshall sent Louis minutes from the earlier meeting, and reminded Louis how the June meeting had focused on the three existing programs. “To the extent your graduates fit into one of the [Department of Labor] sanctioned programs, we have been able to secure a number of slots for them,” Marshall wrote. If not, they’d have to go through the lottery.

Caldwell called Marshall to complain. “He started to say that he did not understand why FCRC could not meet the expectations that BUILD has for the people enrolled in their program and said that for the past years we must have been in different meetings,” she wrote, documenting the conversation. “I said yup because there is a huge disconnect” they had to fix.

The tension apparently provoked Marshall to walk out of a meeting with CBA representatives, suffering a possible anxiety attack. On October 14, 2010, Marshall apologized to CBA members, “for my rude, unprofessional and bizarre behavior…. I want you to know that I respect you all both personally and professionally and that I am truly committed to the success of the CBA.”

Marshall also apologized to colleagues. Covington filled her in on the rest of the meeting: “Caldwell admitted that he’s told all the participants in his program that when they finish they will get a job on the AY Project; he said that the ‘big people’ at FCRC told him this would be the case.”

When Forest City reps at the meeting said Caldwell’s statement wasn’t true, Covington reported, “[Ex-ACORN leader] Bertha [Lewis, another CBA signatory] got on her soap box and said FCRC needed to work something out.”

“It is very good I left when I did,” Marshall responded. “Did you (I know it is impossible) attempt to say [Forest City] so called big wigs had nothing to do with it.”

“No, I didn’t,” responded Covington, saying “Caldwell has taken the role of victim… no matter how much we explain how the pre-apprenticeship program is/was going to work.”

On Oct. 18, 2010, BUILD's Louis wrote to Marshall, saying she did not understand the confusion. BUILD's PATP, she said, "was to target individuals" outside the criteria for the three existing programs. She cited Covington’s August letter.

Marshall wrote back 12 minutes later: “One misworded sentence does not change the fact that yes build was to send program ready people to the 3 programs; it also does not change the fact that your program cannot and never lead to immediate jobs in a union on site.”

Louis responded, noting that BUILD submitted 217 initial prospects for those programs. “However, before our meeting on October 5, 2010 it was never articulated” that those in BUILD’s program had to join the other three programs.

In June, she reminded Marshall, Forest City had refused to incorporate language promising a path from BUILD’s PATP to apprenticeships, “nor was it stated that the plan” was to use the three existing programs. Given that BUILD’s program was under way, she wrote, she feared Forest City’s plan “sets the CBA’s Pre-Apprentice Program up to fail.”

Managing the crisis

Subsequent meetings were tense. According to minutes of the Oct. 19, 2010 meeting, Sanna said only the three existing programs could feed the union. Caldwell “raised what was stated in the CBA about the PATP and what had been told the community.” Sanna, however, said the PLA was negotiated later. As a compromise, Forest City officials wondered of Construction Skills 2000 might stretch to enroll people up to 30 years old.

Minutes from a meeting Oct. 28, 2010 suggest the crisis in the PATP was under control. Caldwell had spoken with each participant personally: “Some were upset, but for the most part they understood that efforts were being made to identify opportunities, in and out of the construction field.”

“I felt like a dummy,” Caldwell said in his deposition. “Because now I got to go back and confront everyone, you know, after being a big shot, now I got to go back and explain everything to them.”

Caldwell’s report to Forest City may have been too sunny. Seeing a crumbling foundation and a tight working space at the Staten Island site, stated plaintiff Clarence Stewart, “we began to say to them that we did not sign up to work on your personal project, that Mr. Bruce Ratner promised us something else.” (It’s not clear when Caldwell spoke to all participants or what date Stewart was citing).

After the Staten Island training ended, trainee Armstrong approached Caldwell in the BUILD office. “I don’t care about nobody else in the class, if it was BS, let me know,” Armstrong stated. “Please don’t waste my time… And he looked me in the eyes and said This is for real, this is the real thing.”

Celebrating completion, but not all happy

Even without the full hands-on training planned, the participants would get certificates of completion. BUILD held its graduation at noon on Dec. 15, 2010, again at St. Teresa of Avila.

Gilmartin came to say some encouraging words, which some plaintiffs interpreted as promises of union jobs, though, when pressed, one acknowledged, “I don’t remember exactly.”

Others heard Gilmartin promise entry to the other PATPs. The encouragement to attend other pre-apprenticeship programs was “adding insult to injury,” plaintiff Kathleen Noreiga said when the lawsuit was filed Nov. 15, 2011.

If Noreiga seemed angry, well, she had tried hard. BUILD's notes described her as “very loyal, focused and open to doing what's necessary.” Though she wanted to join the Carpenters Union, Noreiga was told by BUILD that they had instead 100 Laborers Union slots. Asked if she would accept that, she responded, “Yes, yes, I will. I want to work, yes,” according to her deposition.

Though Forest City says BUILD’s program offered redundant training, it didn’t push back. If the PATP was supposed to only address life skills, Covington was asked in her deposition, why did the company pay for construction skills training?

“That was the program that BUILD wanted to teach,” she responded. “We tried to tell them to limit it to life skills, they wanted to teach more.”

“So you had every right to say we are not going to fund these things, right?”

“We had every right but we did not,” Covington replied. Forest City did not, however, have funds for stipends or lunches, as BUILD requested.

Managing the problem, but lawsuit emerges

As the crisis continued, Forest City, hoping to find a place for the PATP students and, perhaps, to head off a lawsuit, discussed getting them into existing pre-apprenticeships.

BUILD rep Chantel Lewis told Covington that a representative of NEW—the same program against which Gilmartin thought BUILD’s effort stacked up well—told one PATP participant the program wouldn’t offer anything beyond what she’d learned. None got into Construction Skills 2000; even a stretch to 30 years old would have left out most of the trainees.

BUILD apparently tried to head off litigation. Plaintiff Jonathan Silva was told by BUILD staffer Lewis that if he met with Noreiga and lawyers, BUILD would blacklist him from “any union and any job in New York City.”

Apple, according to the lawsuit, was contacted by BUILD in April 2011 regarding a potential job, but instead found Caldwell questioning him about possible litigation.

The plaintiffs—initially seven, later a total of 20—are represented by South Brooklyn Legal Services and the Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, the two law firms that represented plaintiffs in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain suit.

The lawsuit was announced at a Nov. 15, 2011 press conference outside Council Member James’s office in Fort Greene. “I was robbed,” asserted plaintiff Maurice Griffin, who quit a non-union carpentry job for the PATP.

“They guaranteed me a union card, They said it’s not a question of whether we have it, but whether you complete the program. And I completed it. I came every time, early,” said Griffin, who was described, in BUILD notes, as “displaying excellent sportsmanship and teamwork.” He later joined a union on his own.

When Caldwell (with followers) crashed the press conference, he responded incredulously to the claims. "They said they’re going to make us millionaires," he said in an interview captured on video. "Get the hell out of here. We gonna make them millionaires?"



Did trainees expect they’d exit with a union card and a job, he was asked.

"Hell no," Caldwell replied aggrievedly, though his subsequent statements confirm it. "We had over 4000 applicants... We told them straight up... We don’t control union books, we don’t own no construction companies, we’re no contractor."

Ratner, his deposition revealed, referred to the lawsuit as a “Letitia James special.” Asked that that meant, he replied, “The publicity.”

Some plaintiffs, like Griffin, forfeited significant opportunities, though others—including two men who hadn’t worked for years because of health problems—seem to have been poor candidates for construction work, despite the huge pool BUILD chose from.

In his deposition, life skills instructor Tyner didn’t mention the construction experience many students had, but said considered the class as an opportunity “for someone with no skills…. to be brushed up” for mainstream job opportunities.

“I did a lot of work with inmates,” he said, “and I needed every bit of it for this program. I got beat up several times breaking up fights in this program. These people were off the hook.”


BUILD moves on, but struggles 

BUILD proceeded on other fronts, including a seven-week round of customer service training, helping young people gain soft skills to position themselves for entry-level arena jobs. On November 8, 2011, BUILD held an spirited ceremony in Crown Heights for program graduates, who seemed very grateful.

They got buttons with the BUILD logo, proclaiming “Proud Customer Service Training Graduate: In Service to the Community and Beyond.” There was no union construction job waiting, but several would get part-time work at the arena.

“What I’m learning is that our peoples--peoples that are less educated, they’re underserved, are so behind,” Caldwell commented in an interview at the time, with a touch of mournfulness, adding more positively, “When we teach our peoples, they get it.”

BUILD, however, didn't thrive. On the inopportune date of Nov. 16, 2011, a day after the federal lawsuit was filed, it held an already scheduled fundraiser, stating, “One of our biggest and most prideful achievements to date is the more than 400 New Yorkers, from all boroughs, we've helped in finding, maintaining and accelerating in gainful employment.” (That omitted the PATP.)

Photo of Caldwell, with Louis, copyright Nancy Siesel
Louis, battling cancer, died in December 2011, leaving Caldwell, to rely on less experienced staffers.

At the September 21, 2012 Barclays Center ribbon-cutting event, a week before the arena opened, Caldwell carried a framed photograph of Louis.

Troubles compound

In June 2012, federal Judge Gleeson dismissed several aspects of the case filed against Forest City, executives Ratner, Marshall, and Caldwell. But he rejected a defense motion to dismiss most contested issue during a court argument: whether Forest City and BUILD constituted "joint employers," a key issue at the hearing tomorrow.

Gleeson's decision prompted the legal process of discovery and the extensive depositions of Forest City executives, those associated with BUILD, and the plaintiffs. In March 2013, 13 additional plaintiffs joined the suit.

BUILD struggled. On September 27, 2012, I reported that BUILD was the subject of a complaint filed by former CFO Lance Woodward, fired by Caldwell, to the New York State Attorney General. BUILD owed more than $115,000 in back taxes.

Caldwell, according to the complaint, had spent money on Brooklyn Nets tickets and the 77th Precinct Council, as well as well-meaning if off-budget items like clothes for a staffer and rent. Other sums were allegedly misallocated, including MetroCards for PATP participants.

The complaint was never ventilated. BUILD closed its office and dissolved its operations by November 16, 2012. A message from Caldwell, signing off as "President Emeritus," stated that BUILD had "honored its mission and purpose to foster economic self-sufficiency and prosperity amongst socio-economically vulnerable communities.”

"BUILD was a critical partner in the creation of the Community Benefits Agreement and the hiring for Barclays Center,” Forest City said in a statement.

Caldwell told Forest City that, with the loss of Louis, “he allegations, the lawsuit, you know, that I couldn’t take it anymore,” he recounted said in a deposition. He asked for help paying the tax bill—Forest City supplied $100,000—and jobs for BUILD employees. (Forest City apparently was already committed to defending BUILD and Caldwell in the lawsuit.)

Caldwell discussed a consulting gig with Forest City. “I told [executive] Ashley Cotton want to be paid more than what I’m making now,” he said, which was $67,200.

Gilmartin, in her deposition, said staff recommended “that we consider keeping him on retainer to provide us with services.… My recollection is it had to do with community interfacing, and sourcing for jobs." (The deposition was conducted while Caldwell was still winding down BUILD's debts.)

Fulfilling the PATP promise

Had Caldwell considered invoking the CBA, he was asked in his deposition, to get $500,000 from the developer for job training?

“No, listen, I’m 61 years old,” Caldwell responded. “I had a triple bypass, you know. I served my country… what am I gonna sue FCR for when they, you know—our community benefited from it, big time… And by the community being blessed, I got blessed, too.”

In his deposition, Bruce Ratner was asked if he had “discussions with your staff” about Caldwell’s promises to the PATP students?

“I have had them subsequent,” he answered. “I don’t remember that period of time that I did. I don’t remember that I did. Or didn’t, frankly. But I don’t know.”

Asked if he became aware that BUILD was proceeding with a PATP, Ratner replied, again vaguely or cagily. “Yes, there became a time that they started a pre-apprentice program. I don’t know to what extent it was with us, without us, I don’t know what that exactly means.”

“Well, your company entered into a contract to pay for the program," he was asked. "Right?”

“I don’t know,” replied Ratner. “I don’t know when—what contract. I’m not sure how—what point things were paid, honestly.”

At some point—not quite clarified in plaintiff Emerie Beckford’s fuzzy recollection—“Mr. Caldwell was giving out tools because, you know, because we finished the program and the young lady from Mr. Ratner's office assured us that we would be employed.”

“I still have my tools from Mr. Caldwell’s office,” he said.

Paths without BUILD

Forest City Ratner still steers locals to construction jobs. At the groundbreaking for its first tower on Dec. 18, 2012, Forest City and its modular construction partner Skanska said they’d work with NEW, CS 2000, and Helmets to Hardhats “in a continuation of goals established in the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement.” (Forest City last year helped sponsor an awards reception for CS 2000.)

Clearly, pre-apprenticeship programs have value. In a March 2014 report on CS 2000, Columbia University researchers concluded that the program, supported by the New York City School Construction Authority and the Port Authority (plus City Council and private fundraising), was “the most successful construction industry pre-apprenticeship program in the country,” launching minority youth into middle-class careers.

The program each year processes 120 students (who get a small stipend and MetroCard), at $7,500 each. It should be expanded, the researchers said,, by tripling the percentage of apprenticeship slots reserved for high school graduates from 10 percent to 30 percent—which requires an overall increase in union construction jobs.

There’s no clear path to apprenticeship, though, for older men who aren't veterans, like many of the those who signed up with BUILD.

Today, BUILD’s program is getting written out of history. Forest City, in cautious but already dated text on its Atlantic Yards website, says, “A pre-apprenticeship training program has already been developed to help new workers develop the kinds of skills that they can use beyond this project.”
From AtlanticYards.com
In May, Forest City began demolishing the building that once housed BUILD.

Caldwell continues

Caldwell, apparently on a Forest City retainer, keeps tabs on Atlantic Yards by attending public hearings and meetings of the Quality of Life Committee, though the Precinct Council remains a major focus for him.

While Brooklyn has notably gentrified in the decade since BUILD began, the increasing divide in Crown Heights—fierce gentrification in the west, stubborn youth violence in the east—suggests that any new construction project offering jobs might find an uncritical embrace.

Recently, in an interview with Stephen Witt of Our Time Press about a spate of shootings in the neighborhood, Caldwell endorsed increased community policing and stop-and-frisk tactics, which have diminished under the de Blasio administration.

Police work, Caldwell acknowledged, was just one step. “The city needs to put more money in the community,” he declared, echoing his justifications for Atlantic Yards. “Until you are able to give jobs to the youths in the community, you will always have trouble with guns because they are hustling.”

This morning, in a Daily News essay headlined Citizen partners in crimefighting, NY 1 anchor (and Crown Heights resident) Errol Louis noted that the 77th Precinct Community Council, "led by longtime activists James Caldwell, Evangeline Porter and Marlene Saunders," will hold a fundraiser Sunday, with admission fees going to a summer outreach effort to youth.

All three were on the board of the now-defunct BUILD, once housed at 10 MetroTech, which according to a report this morning, is "nearly gone."

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