There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
On work days, Anthony Brown wakes up at 4:15 a.m. and races from his home in Fort Washington, Md., to score a parking spot near the construction site for Nationals Park.
“You got guys coming from as far away as Delaware and Richmond,” the 45-year-old journeyman carpenter says early Tuesday standing outside the stadium next to his Toyota SUV. “It’s a rat race for parking.”
So far, out-of-towners like Brown haven’t had to worry much about parking competition from locals. Although residents were promised a chunk of construction jobs at the stadium, the work hasn’t come through.
By the end of June, District residents had worked only 23 percent of the highly paid journeyman hours at the site along the Anacostia River, according to a recent report.
Much of the money fleeing with workers to the suburbs was supposed to stay in the city: In 2006, Mayor Anthony A. Williams fashioned a “project labor agreement” with trade unions, the construction giant Clark/Hunt/Smoot (a joint venture of three construction groups formed for the job), and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. The agreement promised 50 percent of journeyman hours to local residents.
In addition to the low local journeyman hours, lower-paid apprentices are doing less work than promised. Unions and subcontractors have also fallen short of a pledge to hire D.C. residents for all new apprentice jobs. By the end of June, 1 of 10 lived elsewhere.
At the job site, many suggest that D.C. workers are to blame. Clifton Beynum, a 52-year-old concrete laborer who lives in Kingman Park and has been making $20 an hour at the stadium for more than a year, says construction work turns off locals looking for easy money.
“Today it was 91 degrees,” he says after work Monday. “We was out there in it. You have to have a backbone. They aren’t giving you anything.”
Beynum sees the issue in terms of race, not residency. “You got a lot of young people who don’t want to work,” he says. “But the Latinos, they are jumping through the roof for a job. For every D.C. resident who has been fired over there, a Spanish person has replaced them.”
Stories circulate about D.C. residents faking credentials to get work. Brown says he has seen District residents come and go from the work site after bosses find out they don’t have the skills for the job. “I’ve seen a few promise some things. Then a few days later you find out they can’t do the work,” he says.
The view from the trenches is shared by Morris Shearin, the pastor of Israel Baptist Church who chairs the task force that tracks the employment numbers. “The people do not want to go through the training to start themselves on the path,” Shearin says. “It’s up to the individual. As James Brown used to say: ‘We’re living in America.’”
Hiring procedures for stadium jobs are spelled out in the agreement. When subcontractors need workers, they are required to ask the unions to dispatch a D.C. resident. If the unions cannot find one within 24 hours, they pass the query to the D.C. Department of Employment Services, which sends available workers to the site. If the department cannot fill the job within 48 hours, subcontractors are free to hire nonresidents.
Jerry Lozupone, executive secretary treasurer of the Washington D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council, says the unions are searching for city residents to work at the stadium, but job-fair returns have been small.
The notion that the stadium would be a boon to the city’s unemployed was a pipe dream, Lozupone adds, since most of the unemployed do not have the necessary skills to work at the site. “I don’t care who you are, I’m not putting you to work for $35 an hour if you don’t know a wire nut from a lock nut,” he says.
Construction companies and the unions haven’t failed on all of the labor agreement’s targets. Among all new hires this year, 480 of 868 were from D.C., which exceeds the 51 percent goal. Still, these new hires have had a paltry effect on the amount of hours worked by locals. Lozupone says that’s because some subcontractors arrived with out-of-town crews and simply aren’t hiring. He seems to be correct. Among the 56 contractors listed on the June task force report, 18 of them did not hire workers this year.
Chrystal Stowe, spokeswoman for Clark/Hunt/Smoot, disputes that rationale. She says subcontractors are asking the unions for residents to meet the requirements, but the unions haven’t provided them. “It’s not so much that subcontractors are bringing in crews from Virginia,” she says. “It’s that subcontractors are requesting D.C. residents, and they are not there.”
The local hiring issue has come up before, most recently during the 1990s construction of the Washington Convention Center and MCI Center. It’s likely to be an issue again with other city projects near the stadium, task force and construction sources say.
There is much hand-wringing over the stadium labor numbers, but some question whether the city ever took the agreement seriously. “I really think they knew it couldn’t get met,” Lozupone says about the resident worker goals. The bigger issue is getting the stadium built before Opening Day, he says. “Come April next year, nobody is going to give a rat’s ass. Everybody forgets it. It goes away.”
It may have already gone away. As part of the agreement, subcontractors who fail to meet hiring goals or demonstrate “good faith” efforts can be fined. Grievances can also be filed against the unions. So far, neither has happened.
It’s too early for that, says Courtland Cox of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. There still is much work to be done at the stadium, and Cox expects an increase in District work hours before the job is complete. Still, he doubts all goals will be met.
“I think we knew from early on in our conversations that this was an uphill slog,” he says.