Seven Central Brooklyn residents last week filed a federal lawsuit against Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) and a local nonprofit organization alleging that the job training program they participated in did not result in their getting a construction union card nor work on the Atlantic Yards site.
The residents participated in a Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD) pre-apprentice job training program as part of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) between FCR and several local nonprofit organizations.
FCR is the primary funder of BUILD, which is run by longtime Crown Heights community activist James Caldwell.
“We believed them when they said that this was a path to union membership and union jobs,” said plaintiff Kathleen Noriega, 58, of Crown Heights. “They even told us that they had seen the union books that were reserved for us. They told us that we could rely on their promises because the CBA would guarantee that they keep their word.”
City Councilwoman Letitia James, who organized the press conference announcing the lawsuit, said the plaintiffs not only failed to find jobs out of the program, but also performed free labor in the construction of a house on Staten Island.
“As time moves forward, the mounting distance of (FCR President) Bruce Ratner’s promises becomes more apparent with the Atlantic Yards project,” said James. “Ratner has not fulfilled his promise of 17,000 jobs for the community. Ratner is not delivering on the 2,250 affordable housing units he promised. FCR has not delivered much to the community, and continues to do an injustice to Central and Downtown Brooklyn residents by disregarding their voices.”
But both FCR and BUILD officials said union cards were never promised, and charged James, state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and longtime foes of Atlantic Yards are behind the lawsuit. They also said their opposition is a major contributing force behind the lack of jobs as promised by the CBA.
“Were it not for the delays brought on by opponents of the project, including some of those behind this lawsuit, even more people would be employed right now,” said FCR spokesman Joe DePlasco.
Caldwell said his organization has placed close to 400 people from the community with jobs, many on other FCR developments, and that the downturn in the economy has caused the build-out of the Atlantic Yards project to be much slower.
“Everybody knows the bottom fell out on the construction industry, especially in New York City,” said Caldwell. “Even this project (Atlantic Yards) nearly ran out. Ratner had to go to Russia to save it.”
Upon final build-out, the Atlantic Yards project is planned to include 16 high-rise buildings split evenly between affordable and market rate housing, and an arena to house the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball team. Thus far, only the Barclays Center arena in under construction.
DePlasco said there are about 800 people currently working on the Atlantic Yards project and it is the largest construction site in the city after the World Trade Center/Freedom Tower project.
Of these workers, 410 are city residents including 174 from Brooklyn, of which 67 are from Central Brooklyn. Additionally, 51 percent of all contracts and nearly 23 percent of all contract dollars have been awarded to MWBEs (minority-and women-owned business or enterprise), DePlasco said.
DePlasco said of the 36 people that went through the BUILD pre-apprenticeship training program, 19 were working in property management, retail or construction-related positions as of September this year.
But plaintiff Maurice Griffin, 23, said he took the training because he thought it meant he would get a construction union card. He finally got one on his own with the carpenters union.