When the Governor of New York announced the $1.54 billion dollar agreement to build a new Buffalo Bills stadium, she emphasized that this agreement included a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) and a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). These documents would ensure that the Bills are, in fact, hiring minorities and women for the stadium construction. This was important to the local area. The State of New York was giving the team $600 taxpayer money and Eric County was handing over $250 million.
Moreover, the goals were not particularly towering anyway:
“The Bills are required to make and document a “good faith effort” to achieve, at minimum, an overall participation goal of 30% for minority and women-owned businesses – 15% each. In addition, there is a 6% goal for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses”—Buffalo News, 07/24/2023
Well, bad news. They haven’t hit a single goal yet. In fact, one government group dug into the construction jobs and found that the Bills had minorities at a “well below” level.
One local chairwoman spoke to the Buffalo News. Let’s just say that she is not happy:
“I am, absolutely, just disgusted at their lack of transparency, at their ability to ignore the language in the legal document that the Buffalo Bills signed that says that they are accountable to outreach in a very specific way. If they think that I’m going to stand for them submitting a bunch of waivers and ‘good faith effort‘ when I have a laundry list of people who are sitting here saying, ‘We want to work. We don’t know how we can figure it out.’ They are sadly mistaken.” — Erie County chairwoman April Baskin, Buffalo News, 07/24/2023
But didn’t the agreement between the team and New York include language that the team must “collaborate” with local minority and women groups to help identify the local minority or female-owned firms? About that…the CEO of one of those minority groups told the Buffalo News that the Bills communication with him and his organization “has been limited so far”. The team has also made “no effort so far to (contact) his organization…for leads on identifying…minority-owned firms.” Therefore, the Bills talked a good game and then never followed up.
The Buffalo Bills public answer to all of this continues to be part laughable and part tone-deaf. On one hand, they continue to put out this idiotic PR language that just makes them look like idiots. The construction group for the stadium told the Buffalo News that, contrary to almost all evidence currently, they are in fact “working a well-developed program to meet project goals in an open and inclusive process.” Sounds like it.
On the other hand, the Bills are now informing local news stations that the stadium project just got started and that “there’s a lot of opportunity left” to diversify the construction jobs. The problem with that line of thinking is that the local government has already given the Bills almost all the approvals necessary to build the stadium. Meaning, the city doesn’t have much leverage moving forward. When one city leader decided to ask the Bills how many contracts had been given to minorities or women, they were ignored and never told. That sure sounds like the Bills are on the right track!
In the middle of last year, when the Bills were still negotiating for a deal, the proposed labor agreement went public and Rod Watson wrote an article detailing the importance of vigorous enforcement of hiring promises.
“Backers of the…labor agreement to build the new Buffalo Bills stadium…say it’s a good deal for the region because it will force contractors…to pay prevailing wages. But whether that trickles down to (minority) communities that most need an economic infusion will depend on another part of the stadium deal: diversity goals that will need to be met on the job site, not just on paper”— Rod Watson, Buffalo News, 05/04/2022
Rod even gives us some tips on ways that we can make sure that the Bills were hiring the correct amount of non-white guys.
- The goals must be “explicit”
- Be “vigorous and continuous” when monitoring construction.
- Construction team must be accountable to the public and not the team.
- Site visits and having access to records is mandatory.
Of course, the city listened to none of these.
This is a painful lesson that so many cities go through with this type of situation. In today’s world, if a team owner wants taxpayers to pay for a new arena, ballpark or stadium, the owners will promise local leaders that residents and minority groups will be the biggest winners from the construction performed. In a high, high, high majority of instances, the team will get taxpayer money and then do what is necessary to save money by hiring whoever is the cheapest. What happens when the owner doesn’t follow through? Nothing. Maybe a little fine here or there.
The number of examples that I can find of owners getting their payday and running away is staggering.
In 2019, the construction company hired to build Polar Park in Massachusetts, Gilbane/Hunt, promised to give 20% of the work to women & minority-owned businesses. Result — Not only did they miss the mark of hiring 20%, but according to the state’s attorney general, they lied about the progress of the ballpark project, did nothing to encourage women or minorities and didn’t even track the project’s spending. Last year, they agreed to pay a $2 million fine.
In 2015, the city of Detroit gave the owner of the Red Wings and Pistons a little less than $400 million in taxpayer dollars to build a new arena and other development near the arena. The city was desperate to find jobs for locals through the construction of the arena. Included in this arena agreement was a requirement that the owners hire “at least 51% local residents.” Result — “Contractors on the $863 million Little Caesars Arena in Detroit have paid a total of $5.2 million in fines to the city for not employing at least 51% of local residents in the construction of the new hockey arena, according to Crain’s Detroit Business.” If it makes anyone feel better, the contractors admitted that they only met the 51% requirement in just five months of the 30-month project
In 2017, the Golden State Warriors began to build their new $1 billion arena. One of the employment laws in San Francisco requires that contractors and developers make a good-faith effort to give 50% of the contracts to local businesses. Result — San Francisco’s last report showed only 18% of contracts had been issued to small businesses, while only 2% of contracts had been given to minority-owned businesses.
In 2008, baseball was coming back to Washington DC and therefore a new ballpark was being built. Since many DC leaders were hesitant about giving this amount of money to a sports team, the main contractor agreed to hire locals for 50% of the construction work. If the hiring goals weren’t reached, financial penalties could be handed out. Result — They hired locals for about 27% of the job. As for the fines, no one was penalized or fined for missing the goals.
During the construction of the ballpark, the DC government put in place a task force that met monthly and who went over how the contractors were doing with the hiring goals. This group consisted “primarily of construction executives and union officials” so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that they never saw or found anything?
In 2009, Louisville built a new arena. These days, rumors are around that the city may end up paying close to $1 billion in public money if we include interest payments. Ouch. Result — They struggled to ever come close to their hiring goal, and the last reported number that I found showed the construction including less than 20% minority workers.
In 2001, the city of Philadelphia decided to build both the Eagles and Phillies each new sports homes for a total cost of $1.1 billion dollars. Taxpayers ended up paid for at least half of this project. Before this was agreed, the city got both the Eagles and Phillies to commit that “minorities would get 45 percent of the construction work on the…project.” This promise was why the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a story discussing how the commitment was “crucial to obtaining City Council approval for the project.”
Result — They didn’t quite get to 30%. Well, 28.5% according to the teams. However, the business manager of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council claims that 39% of minorities worked on the sports projects. When told that the teams said otherwise, he couldn’t explain his numbers and needed to “look at the data.” Wouldn’t that be the first thing to look at? In just a random sort of coincidence, once the Phillies got taxpayer money, they seem to have had a change of heart about the minority requirement. Even though the Phillies told the city council that they would hire 45% of minorities, their vice president of operations “declined to say whether he considered the (45%) goal realistic.”
But the Phillies do have an excellent excuse, and it is one that we all should appreciate: “We promised to try as hard as we could to reach it, and I think that’s what we are doing.” Don’t beat yourself up too much.
This next one is a bit different. I just find it annoying, so I am including it.
In 2020, the Las Vegas Raiders had just finished building their new stadium. In order to get $750 million in taxpayer money, they had to award a “minimum 15 percent of subcontracts…to small-business-enterprise companies”. As the stadium was being built, the construction group and Raiders let just about every single media outlet know that they had exceeded their minority hiring goals. I saw stories about it from USAToday, Las Vegas Review-Journal, and so many more.
Here is my issue. The Raiders had no minority hiring goals. When the Raiders unveiled their community benefits agreement to the public, outlets noted something odd:
“The (document) listed the state-mandated 15 percent participation of local small businesses, but it did not include a hiring target of minority workers, an issue that has dominated the public’s comments during the board’s meetings”— Seattle Times, 2017
One stadium authority board consultant admitted to LVSportsBiz.com that the Raiders CBA “does not mandate any minority hiring or contract goals”. However, the consultant did say that if the Raiders wanted to, they could just “provide its own goals”.
Please do not send me stories of an owner giving himself a low hiring goal and then praising himself when he hits it. If the goal is already embarrassing, you don’t get credit. This reminds me of the SolarCity disaster in Buffalo around 2015. The construction group promised to hire 25% minorities. Then they lowered it to 15%. They got it! Yes!