Rod Watson: Spreading the wealth on stadium project? Déjà vu all over again – Buffalo News

Backers of the proposed project labor agreement to build the new Buffalo Bills stadium in Orchard Park say it’s a good deal for the region because it will force contractors – even nonunion ones – to pay prevailing wages.

But whether that trickles down to the Black, Hispanic and Native American 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.

“You have to have an enforcement mechanism that you actually follow up on,” said Brenda McDuffie, cutting to the heart of an issue that has frustrated both minority workers and business owners for decades.

As head of the Buffalo Urban League during the city’s $1 billion school reconstruction initiative of the early 2000s, McDuffie was a constant presence at project meetings, poking, prodding and shaming construction managers in a bid to make them live up to the spirit of the diversity goals.

She retired from the Urban League in 2020, but not from community commitment. Based on experience with the schools project – which passed governmental scrutiny but failed the eyeball test – McDuffie offered tips to ensure disadvantaged communities get more out of the upcoming project than they did the last one:

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  • Make sure the goals are explicit. Whether in terms of hours worked, the percentage of payroll going to underrepresented workers or whatever the metric is, it has to be stated explicitly up front in the agreement. “Words do matter,” she said.
  • Monitoring has to be vigorous and continuous. “You can’t ever let your guard down,” she said. The results of that monitoring have to be made public, and the monitors must be accountable to the public entities footing much of the bill – in this case, the state and county – not to the construction companies running the project. Monitoring also must include unannounced site visits and access to records.
  • Such projects don’t have to rely solely on sanctions; there also can be rewards for contractors that can demonstrate they meet the goals.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has said the stadium project could employ about 10,000 laborers. If it comes anywhere close to that tally, it could mean a lot of jobs, including for workers of color. But that will happen only if the agreement ensures that monitors have the authority, the will – and the independence – to hold contractors and the unions to agreed upon goals.

It also will happen only if the goals themselves are meaningful.

No one should forget the 2015 protest at the SolarCity (now Tesla) site on South Park Avenue, when a 25% minority …….