Monday, July 07, 2014

The BUILD lawsuit: looking back at the hope people invested in Atlantic Yards union jobs

At noon on Friday, July 11 is a crucial hearing in the federal lawsuit filed by trainees in a coveted pre-apprentice training program (PATP) promised in the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) via jobs-development group BUILD, or Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, now defunct after developer Forest City Ratner stopped funding it. U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, 225 Cadman Plaza E., Judge John Gleeson, Courtroom 6C South.

The trainees--20 of 36--charge that BUILD CEO James Caldwell falsely promised that, upon finishing the 15-week program, they'd get jobs and union cards. They seek damages for that and seek recovery for weeks of unpaid labor on the training site Caldwell agreed to--an actual job assigned to the contractor, Gausia Jones, who was teaching part of the program. 

The hearing concerns motions for summary judgment, as defendant Forest City wants most of the case against it dismissed, which would leave the plaintiffs far less likely to recover any major sums. At issue is Forest City's relationship with BUILD: how much was the non-profit was acting on the developer's behalf and as a "joint employer," a key legal test.

I'll write at length about the case at length Thursday, but will first share some relevant items.

BUILD clearly tapped into a deep need for jobs, one not answered by existing programs, and one, it turned out, it could not answer, because it could not provide an alternate pathway--as the CBA promised--to coveted union apprenticeship slots. And it shut down before it could deliver the job training to the hundreds of candidates it once hoped to serve.

But it made big promises, and found followers who believed in those promises. Consider this testimony at the 9/18/06 community forum, part of the public input on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which needed approval before the project could go forward.

 “I’m a member of BUILD,” declared Anthony Wright, working class black guy, heavy-set, with a grey-flecked goatee and white knit cap with “Allah” on it. “I’m also a member of the streets.” He described how he’d been clean of drugs and alcohol for 16 years. Work could make a huge difference.


Video excerpt from Brooklyn Matters, by Isabel Hill

“Because see, when you go to one of them minimum-wage jobs and you come home with two hundred and thirty five dollars, and the rent is, you know, nine hundred dollars, it just don't add up," he declared, as if offering religious testimony.

"So I want to take a hit off the pipe, or smoke some reefer, or drink some alcohol to try to medicate the feelings of pain, you know, and disgust that, you know, I can't make it," he continued.

"But with Bruce Ratner's project, you know, I really--you know, in my heart, and I'm not going to say I believe, I'm going to say I know, that it can change a lot of people's lives," he continued. " Y’know what I'm sayin': with the apprenticeship programs, and with the affordable housing, everything that I believe that this man is bringing to us is beneficial."

But Ratner would not bring the affordable housing until he got sufficient subsidies, and the pre-apprenticeship program would not be funded until 2010, after many complaints from BUILD, and the promises and contours of that program are now hugely contested.

(I haven't been able to learn about Anthony Wright's current situation, but when and if I find him, I'll post an update.)

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