- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

District officials and union leaders yesterday announced a project labor agreement (PLA) that establishes minimum levels of minority and local hiring for the construction of the Washington Nationals’ stadium in Southeast.

The pact between the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission and a large group of local building trade unions mandates that at least 35 percent of all contracts for the stadium go to certified local, small or disadvantaged business enterprises; the creation of a youth hiring program designed to turn District residents from unskilled apprentices into journeymen; priority hiring status for District residents; and the establishment of a no-strike pledge for the project.

PLAs are much-debated instruments often used to guide development of large-scale construction efforts. Proponents argue the pacts help ensure buildings are completed on time, control wage costs and establish standards for skilled labor. Opponents believe the agreements help steer sought-after jobs to favored unions, and actually can serve to drive up construction costs. Maryland under Gov. Robert Ehrlich has moved away from the use of PLAs.

But both the city and local unions argued the District is using a hybrid PLA for the Nationals’ stadium in which several key clauses make it different than similar agreements. Most notably, local, small and disadvantaged businesses getting subcontracts on the stadium worth less than $10 million are not required to use union labor.

“This is a pioneering and groundbreaking agreement and a historic day for workers in our city,” said Josh Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Labor Council. “There has not been any PLA in the country that compares to this one.”

The ballpark, to be located near the Anacostia River waterfront, is set to employ about 3,500 people during construction and be open for the 2008 season. Some local real estate executives privately have doubted that timetable, however.

The city is near completion on appraisals for the privately held property in the stadium footprint and likely will send out formal offers for the land early next month. To stay on a schedule laid out with Major League Baseball, current owners of the Nationals, the land must be acquired and rezoned by the end of the year.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams was flanked yesterday at RFK Stadium by several dozen local union leaders and members to announce the PLA. But not everyone shares their sentiment. A band of protestors aligned with the District chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, as well as the Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington, picketed outside the stadium and blared horns during the press conference.

The groups insist local, nonunion residents will not get a fair shot to work on the stadium and that many PLAs go unenforced. One such method of noncompliance, PLA opponents say, is out-of-state workers using temporary addresses to circumvent local hiring statutes.

“This PLA is still going to shut out most D.C. residents and most minorities,” said Adam Prill, who runs a Bethesda construction company. “The [D.C.] Council should be very concerned about this agreement.”

The hiring issue remains a sensitive one because Williams and other city leaders are under significant pressure to deliver substantial local hiring on the ballpark as a means to help justify the District shouldering all the front-end financing cost.

Meanwhile, sports commission officials yesterday said Aramark Corp., the concessionaire for RFK Stadium, has improved its operations in recent weeks. Early this month, the commission openly threatened to fire Aramark if several problems at Nationals games, including long lines and food outages, were not corrected.

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