Rally Urges Local Labor for Ballpark

Posted December 5, 2007 at 6:15pm

About 50 protesters gathered outside RFK Stadium on Tuesday morning, charging that the D.C. government and Washington Nationals have broken their promise to hire minorities and D.C. residents to build the team’s new baseball stadium.

And they highlighted a recent grievance regarding the Oct. 26 firing of five black electricians who say they were discriminated against by their white supervisor. One of those fired, Norval Scott, 47, was at the protest and said in an interview that his supervisor told him that “even a monkey could do this job.”

The electricians were told they were being fired for poor performance only after they filed a grievance through their union, Scott said.

Tuesday’s protest was organized by Robert Green, chairman of the National Capital Area Minority Contractors and Business Association. It was held during a meeting of contractors and officials from the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission to discuss compliance with an agreement outlining hiring procedures for the $611 million stadium, which is scheduled to be completed in time for opening day this spring.

“Community residents were supposed to get opportunities in D.C.,” Green said. “We’re disrupting their meeting and we’ll keep disrupting their meetings until they understand that 611 million government dollars aren’t trickling back to the community.”

At issue is the project labor agreement signed in 2006 by then-Mayor Anthony Williams (D), the DCSEC, construction unions and the construction firm building the stadium.

Under the agreement, D.C. residents are to get half of the highly paid journeyman hours and every new apprenticeship. They also are expected to make up at least half of all new hires.

The DCSEC admits it has reached only one of the three targets but says it is close on the others.

According to the commission, D.C. residents have gotten 29 percent of the highest-paying hours, 87 percent of new apprenticeships and 51 percent of all new jobs. [IMGCAP(1)]

Green’s group is joined in its frustration by the D.C. Economic Empowerment Coalition, which advocates for historically disenfranchised groups.

The DCEEC is mailing residents a pamphlet charging that “District residents are watching on the sidelines as the $611 million Ballpark is built primarily by out-of-town workers.”

But Courtland Cox, who handles hiring issues for the sports commission, said the shortcomings are the result of a labor shortage, not hostility to D.C. workers.

“The real issue is this: It takes four to five years to become an electrician. We don’t have people in those trades,” Cox said in a press briefing at RFK while the protest was going on outside.

“The [project labor agreement] task force is continuing to figure out, how do we get to 50 percent of journeyworkers’ hours being District residents?” he said. “We’re saying, ‘If we didn’t get there, why didn’t we get there?’”

He said the Nationals are working with public schools and the Department of Employment Services to get D.C. residents jobs at the stadium.

The case of the fired workers is a separate matter.

According to Cox, the workers demanded that they get their jobs back with clean records, no retaliation and a new supervisor. “By implication, they wanted [the supervisor] fired,” Cox said.

He said the workers were offered their jobs back, but Scott said he instead hired a lawyer and is pursuing wrongful-termination and racial-discrimination charges.

The supervisor is under investigation, according to Cox.

“When you compare me to a monkey, you are calling me a monkey,” Scott said. “Especially with an African-American, that’s something you just don’t do.”