Stadium Project Falling Short Of City's Ambitious Hiring Goals

Workers build a restaurant and bar at Nationals Park. Contractors have not used as many D.C. journeymen as a project labor agreement envisioned.
Workers build a restaurant and bar at Nationals Park. Contractors have not used as many D.C. journeymen as a project labor agreement envisioned. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 24, 2008

With Washington's new ballpark a little more than a month from its scheduled completion, the project has failed to meet the majority of hiring goals meant to provide construction jobs to city residents, and the District has not sanctioned any contractor for falling short.

An agreement between the District, the main contractors and the region's major unions calls for half of the journeyman construction hours at the ballpark -- the most lucrative jobs -- to be performed by city residents. The actual hours have amounted to 27 percent.

The project also has missed targets that all new apprentices be city residents and that apprentices work at least one-fourth of the hours devoted to construction. About 87 percent of the new apprentices came from the city, and apprentices account for 19 percent of hours, according to construction records.

"At the end of the day, all of those goals should have been met," said Robert C. Bobb, who drafted the agreement two years ago on behalf of then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). "I can't see that there should be a lot of celebration."

The hiring agreement was critical to winning union and political support for the new ballpark and easing concerns of some D.C. Council members who were wary of the city providing the financing for such an expensive project. Supporters touted the ballpark as a source of jobs in a city where pockets of unemployment remain high, and they enlisted organized labor to put its clout behind the stadium.

By the end of December, 2,719 workers had put in 1.7 million hours on the ballpark along South Capitol Street SE. Ironworkers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, masons and other tradesmen -- with pay ranging from $10 to $34 an hour -- have swarmed the 21-acre construction site, many working six days a week to have the stadium ready for a March 29 exhibition game between the Nationals and the Orioles.

Their work has been governed by a 21-page agreement spelling out not only their pay and working conditions but how many of them are expected to be D.C. residents. It sets the terms for journeymen, or experienced, workers, and for apprentices, who are learning their crafts.

Many major public works projects, including the Washington Convention Center, have had these sorts of agreements, but the ballpark called for the most aggressive hiring goals ever set by the District. Besides calling for D.C. residents to get a certain share of hours worked at the ballpark, it required contractors to give the city's residents priority if the businesses needed to make new hires to get the job done.

But the number of construction projects in the region -- including enormous developments such as National Harbor in Prince George's County -- has made it difficult to find enough skilled city residents for the ballpark, contractors and union leaders say.

"The hiring halls are tapped out," said Gerard M. Waites, a Washington lawyer who helped negotiate the agreement for the unions. He noted that 750 of the new journeymen and apprentices hired by various contractors for the ballpark have been D.C. residents and pointed to that as a sign that the project has helped many in the city.

And the ballpark has met or exceeded two goals in the agreement: Fifty-one percent of new hires are D.C. residents, and 72 percent of apprenticeship hours have been performed by city residents, well above the goal of 50 percent.

Bobb, who was city administrator under Williams, agrees with representatives of nonunion contractors who say that all of the agreement's goals could have been met with more diligence.

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