Unions Pitch Benefits Pact

Unions Pitch Benefits Pact

Labor groups seek workforce standards for the proposed multi-use stadium in Knoxville through a community benefits agreement.

by scott barker • September 22, 2022
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A team of labor organizations has developed a formal community benefits agreement they would like to reach with the developers of the proposed multi-use stadium near the Old City.

Smokies' owner Randy Boyd's team says community benefits are already part of the development plan.

The Knoxville Construction & Building Trades Council and the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Area Central Labor Council want to get Boyd Sports and GEM Community Development Group to enter into a binding contract establishing labor and workforce standards for the project.

The two labor councils have yet to approach the developers, but a representative spoke to City Council on Thursday to elicit support for an agreement.

Chris O’Keefe, business manager for Ironworkers Local 384, emphasized the need to use local labor for the construction jobs created by the project. 

“If we’re going to give this money to a contractor to build this here in Knoxville, they need to be local,” he said.

Tennessee Smokies owner and University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd has proposed a publicly funded, multi-use stadium for his AA minor-league baseball team and other local uses, including a home field for Knoxville’s new soccer club, on land he’s assembled along Jackson Avenue east of Hall of Fame Drive. 

Boyd plans to donate the land, appraised at $10 million, for the stadium’s footprint. He has formed GEM Community Development Group to build privately financed, mixed-use development on his land surrounding the stadium. The stadium is estimated to cost $80.5 million, with the private development representing an investment of more than $100 million at first.

A community benefits agreement is a formal, legally binding contract outlining specific improvements that an individual development must provide. 

Community organizations typically seek to require a developer to include public amenities and programs in exchange for their support. Provisions can include wage minimums, job training programs, minority contractor requirements, funding for community organizations, the construction of energy efficient buildings and more. The enforceable agreements are made between the developer and community organizations or a consortium of stakeholders, not governments. 

Community benefits agreements have been used during the past two decades for similar projects in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Nashville.

According to a news release sent out before the Council meeting, the labor groups said they want basic written agreements to ensure the project provides access to good jobs, training and long-term career paths for workers.

The agreement as proposed would:

  • Establish a wage floor of $15.50 an hour for stadium workers.
  • Establish a targeted hiring program, including dedicated staff to help connect individuals with barriers to employment to future job opportunities.
  • Establish jobs and workforce standards for stadium construction.
  • Require construction managers to give priority to contractors and subcontractors that participate in a U.S. Department of Labor-certified apprenticeship program and provide Affordable Care Act-compliant health insurance for employees.
  • Provide mandatory safety training for construction workers and supervisors.
  • Establish a labor advisory committee to oversee implementation of the community benefits agreement and produce an annual report to the public.

O’Keefe said the union representatives would like to meet with Boyd and his development team to discuss the possibility of reaching an agreement.

Boyd, however, has been cool to the notion of a comprehensive community benefits agreement. Instead, he has entered into formal agreements with longstanding community organizations, including the Knoxville Area Urban League and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. One focus has been on investing in East Knoxville parks, playgrounds and programs for children and young adults.

Earlier on Tuesday, Knox County Schools announced that the Boyd Foundation, Boyd’s family philanthropic vehicle, will provide a $650,000 gift to reimagine the outdoor learning space at Green Magnet Academy, which is perched on the hill overlooking the stadium site. The gift was made in coordination with Knox Education Foundation.

The Urban League is helping to identify and prepare minority-owned businesses that can work as subcontractors on the project. Some of the arrangements include provisions often found in community development agreements.

“The developers of the proposed stadium already have pledged a wide range of community benefits that will result from the stadium,” Steve Davis, president of GEM Community Development Group, said in a statement. “The developers anticipate contracting with a large number of private companies to build the stadium and its surrounding amenities. 

“We fully anticipate they will pay market-rate wages, some of which will be higher than $15.50 per hour,” he continued, noting that the Urban League is helping to recruit employees and, if necessary, offer job training. “We anticipate that employees of the facility after it is built also will make market-rate wages.”

Councilwoman Amelia Parker, the Council member who has been the most vocal in her support for a community benefits agreement, said she looks forward to learning more details about the labor organizations’ proposal.

“I’m glad they’ve finally come forward with a proposal,” she said after the meeting. “I support their efforts.”

The unions’ proposal comes as the decision-making process for the stadium is moving toward a conclusion. The city-county Sports Authority is meeting next Tuesday, though the agreements and financial plans needed to proceed are not expected to be ready at that time. County Commission and City Council will have the ultimate say on whether to build the stadium.