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LA labor unions support Farmers Field; stadium promises 20,000 jobs

By Omar Shamout
Published: Monday, March 26, 2012, at 09:33AM
Gensler

A rendering by Gensler shows the Farmers Field logo atop the NFL stadium and events center proposed by AEG.

For struggling laborers like 48-year-old Anthony Mitchell, a proposed football stadium for downtown Los Angeles offers a ray of hope.

The Sylmar electrician only earned four paychecks last year and hasn’t worked since November. Mitchell and his family -- including a daughter and two grandchildren -- are facing foreclosure on their home, and he is having trouble refinancing without showing the bank that he has a steady income.

Mitchell says that he and others in the same boat need the jobs entertainment giant AEG has promised its Farmers Field stadium project would deliver, if it's approved by the L.A. City Council.

“We need to get that stadium built very soon,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell’s sentiments are echoed among many union workers, who are among the chief supporters of the $1.4 billion stadium where AEG hopes to lure an NFL team. The company has promised more than 20,000 jobs -- garnering the support earned of union heavyweights including the L.A. County Federation of Labor.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district Farmers Field would call home, said last August that 14,000 labor jobs would be created during the three-year construction period.

AEG spent a considerable amount of time and money lobbying City Hall in an effort to convince officials that the stadium would offer a huge economic boost to L.A. In the last two quarters of 2011 alone, AEG spent almost $1.3 million in lobbying fees, according to the LA City Ethics Commission.

Farmers Field would be 100-percent privately financed after $195 million in initial city bonds are repaid -- but there is still some skepticism over the degree to which the stadium would spur the local economy and job creation.

An August 2011 report by California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office found that both AEG and the city of LA exaggerated the potential direct financial impact of Farmers Field in their initial predictions.

The report found that the methods “used in each analysis likely overstate the potential for economic growth, new jobs and tax revenue that could be directly attributed to the proposal.”

The legislative analyst’s office did not consider the impact of off-site developments, but it concluded much of the new revenue from proposed events at the stadium such as concerts, international soccer matches and ESPN X Games events would in fact be shifted from other areas within the city. The report also suggested any economic impact would be felt only in the immediate vicinity of the stadium rather than citywide.

In response, Piedmont Brown, President of the Ironworkers of Los Angeles, said that development around the stadium would also be a jobs engine.

“If that stadium goes, that’s going to be a lot of valuable property … you’re going to get 10 more hotels,” Brown said.

Brown also said the NFL would be a big draw for sports enthusiasts eager for the return of professional football.

“People are hungry for a football stadium here,” he said. “After you build the facility, people are going to continue to come and the revenue is going to continue to go in a more positive direction,” he continued.

Perry also promised that all construction jobs on Farmers Field and an expanded west hall of the LA Convention Center (which is also part of the deal) would be covered by a city ordinance that mandates special labor agreements on any public works project. These contracts ensure local workers are hired and wage standards meet levels set by the Division of Labor Statistics and Research.

These deals have come under fire in the past from groups such as the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, which claims they raise construction costs and eliminate competitive bidding.

Brown said the agreements are an important step in protecting workers from unfair labor practices.

“Non-union [contractors] cheat their workers out of what they’re supposed to be getting,” Brown said.

Brown claims the lack of a labor agreement would not allow “working-class people to have a decent wage.”

Neither the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction nor AEG could be reached for comment.

The City Council intends to take up the stadium’s fate again in June after voting 12-0 last August to grant initial approval to the deal between AEG and the city.

Before that vote, Brown and other labor leaders from groups such as Mitchell’s union -- the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers-- along with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and others, spoke in favor of the proposal.

Brown told the council that approval would have a positive long-term impact on his union.

“With this thing [Farmers Field] moving forward, we’ll be able to fill our apprenticeship programs once again and have jobs and careers for our members,” Brown said.

With new data from California’s Employment Development Department revealing Los Angeles County lost 1,300 construction jobs between December 2011 and January 2012, stadium approval can’t come soon enough for workers like Mitchell.

“It’s just slow right now,” Mitchell says. “We need to make sure … those jobs will go for folks who need them the most in the inner city and the Los Angeles area.”

Mitchell says he’s open to taking on jobs outside of construction, but because changes to his loan require Mitchell to meet a certain income level, he says it’s tough to accept lower-paying work.

“It kind of makes it hard to go out and get a security-guard job,” he says.

AEG says it wants to begin construction in June with hopes of having an NFL team playing in the venue in 2016. Additionally, AEG is looking to reach an agreement with the NFL that would see Farmers Field play host to the Super Bowl on more than one occasion over the next decade.

But before AEG can hire anyone for the job, the company has a few more hurdles to clear.

It still has to finish its approximately 10,000-page Environmental Impact Report, which is slated for release sometime this spring and would require council approval. The entertainment developer would also need to see off any lawsuits made under the California Environmental Quality Act before the City Council makes its final vote.

However, AEG received a boost last September when Gov. Brown signed a new law that allows any environmental challenges to bypass Superior Court and go directly to the California Courts of Appeal. That body would have 175 days to reach a decision in each case relating to Farmers Field.

The bill received wide support from the labor and business community alike, and the governor touted the new law as an effort to get Californians like Mitchell back to work as quickly as possible.

Mitchell says it’s hard to overstate the effect a swift end to the process would have on him and his family.

“If I could get two or three years worth of steady work … that would be considered a life-changing event,” Mitchell says.

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