The D.C. Council yesterday endorsed a city agreement that relies on organized labor to build the new stadium for the Washington Nationals, despite concerns that it could hurt city-based minority and non-union contractors and workers.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) announced a labor agreement last week that calls for training hundreds of District residents for jobs generated by the $535 million stadium project.
But council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) introduced an emergency bill that, in effect, would have killed the agreement negotiated between Williams and the unions.
Orange said the agreement would block most D.C. workers because it essentially requires that bidders either have union shops or agree to have their workers join a union in order to participate. He said most construction workers and minority-owned contractors in the District are non-union.
Under the public financing arrangement, the District will rely on a gross receipts tax on large businesses, a utilities tax on federal buildings and businesses, a tax on ballpark concessions and an annual rent payment from the Nationals.
Orange said some non-union companies might help finance the stadium, through the tax on large businesses, but they will not be able to bid for project contracts.
The emergency measure was defeated 10 to 3, with council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) voting with Orange.
Other council members said the overall deal was a good one. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), who joined Orange in support of the baseball stadium bill approved last year, said the labor agreement for the project was the best way to ensure a quality stadium and jobs for D.C. residents.
In announcing the deal, Williams said that half of all apprentices hired would be city residents, that union members who live in the District will have priority on every job and that the local unions will create a summer program for city youth.
The mayor's office said the agreement requires 35 percent of contracts to go to certified local, small and disadvantaged businesses. It also states that the stadium will use apprentices for 25 percent of the jobs, half of them District residents.
The agreement applies only to contracts exceeding $10 million, meaning that small non-union shops and minority business will have a chance to work on the project.
Orange asked whether the pool of union workers in the city is so small that out-of-state union workers will build the stadium while non-union D.C. workers sit at home. He said that happened with the Washington Convention Center, which was built with union labor and where, Orange said, D.C. and minority contractors got only a tiny slice of the pie.
In other business, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) withdrew emergency legislation that would have authorized a $2.2 million grant to the financially troubled Whitman-Walker Clinic.
Catania said he pulled his bill after Williams promised to provide additional funding to the clinic from the city's Department of Health to continue "all direct services currently offered in the District." Williams said he would submit a plan by July 1.
Also, Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) pulled the Budget Support Act from yesterday's agenda, saying she and other members needed more time to ensure all the language is correct. She said the council has until September to pass the bill, which provides the details behind the budget sent to Congress last month for approval.
Some members of the public were not pleased, however. About 75 Department of Corrections employees showed up at the John A. Wilson Building to protest cuts in their department's budget. Because council members were in a closed-door breakfast meeting, the start of the legislative session was delayed for an hour. The corrections officers waited, only to find out that consideration of the bill had been postponed.
"It's absolutely disrespectful,'' said Pamela Chase, chairman of the corrections officers' union. "But we'll be back here on July 6," when the bill is scheduled to be considered.