Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lawsuit Against Forest City Ratner And The Fallacy Of Relying On A White-owned Monopoly To Create Construction Work For The Minority Community

(Above, Maurice Griffin, one of the plaintiffs at the press conference today about the new lawsuit against Forest City Ratner and BUILD brought by former Atlantic Yards supporters.)

I attended today’s press conference at City Council Member Tish James’ office that was held to call attention to the lawsuit* filed today against Forest City Ratner and BUILD in connection with the nonmaterialization of promised Atlantic Yards jobs. BUILD is one of the AstroTurf community organization, which operates essentially as an arm of and supported by the Forest City Ratner organization to provide 1.) the illusion of community support for the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment and 2.) to a certain limited degree, some actual community support for the mega-project which, according to the lawsuit, it does partly by bamboozling. BUILD’s primary function is to sell the idea that Forest City Ratner’s construction of Atlantic Yards will create jobs for minority community members in Brooklyn.

(* See: Tuesday, November 15, 2011, Seven (of 36) trainees who went through job training program for Atlantic Yards construction jobs sue Forest City, BUILD, others, claiming promises were a sham, Tuesday, November 15, 2011, The missing Independent Compliance Monitor for the Atlantic Yards CBA: it should have reported on the construction job training initiative, now subject of a lawsuit, and Tuesday, November 15, 2011, Given the lawsuit against BUILD and FCR, will the New York Times revisit the 2005 "modern blueprint" claim? )

The lawsuit, brought by seven construction workers (out of a group of 36 trainees) who are members of the minority community and who formerly supported Ratner’s Atlantic Yards, alleges that the workers were snookered by Forest City Ratner and BUILD. Some of the charges are quite serious, including that they were convinced to do construction work without pay (“a sham training program”) apparently as part of the scheme to dupe them and extend their belief that they would eventually be getting promised jobs.

I am going to let others report more deeply on the lawsuit and press conference as I know, for instance, that Norman Order of Atlantic Yards Report will and when he does I will link to it at the bottom of this article.

I’d like to focus on one particular aspect of the lawsuit, the question of what Forest City Ratner really ought to owe everyone. The plaintiffs are represented by South Brooklyn Legal Services and one of the attorneys I spoke to today commented that it was sort of absurd that Forest City Ratner had to be sued for not delivering what was essentially the jobs “sweetener” promised for getting control over all the acreage associated with Atlantic Yards. I think that actually trivializes the debt that Forest City Ratner is walking out on.

It is astounding to think that with the resources of its huge mega-monopoly Forest City Ratner is stiffing people for even these few jobs. The 22 acres of Atlantic Yards are contiguous to other Ratner-owned acreage, making for 30 contiguous Ratner-owned acres at the site, with 50+ Ratner-owned acres in the area. That’s an awful lot of mega-monopoly tying up resources in the community accompanied by an unwillingness to hand out jobs.

More important, it should not be overlooked that the creation of the Ratner mega-monopoly precluded and destroyed other jobs. Therefore, I don’t think it is a case of Ratner just owing the community or individuals the few jobs that were the promised sweetener in connection with all the Ratner takings; what Ratner owes the community ought to be commensurate with all the jobs destroyed or precluded by the mega-monopoly.

The Ratner/BUILD combination was promising jobs for minority construction workers. Is turning a mega-monopoly over to Forest City Ratner really a way to create those construction jobs? Or is it the reverse? Jane Jacobs devoted analysis in her book “The Economy of Cities” to what exactly creates jobs for minority construction workers and firms. Her analysis was that the agglomeration of inherently smaller construction projects into much larger ones was a subtle form of discrimination that actually serves to remove work from the minority community, almost, some might believe as if that were the intention.

Her description on page 226 of her book sounds very much like a description of the development of Atlantic Yards except that it is describing a much smaller agglomeration. The language, in one long paragraph from 1969, might sound a little dated by the standards of what today’s political correctness prescribes, but it makes sense. (I inserted “develop their businesses” below in substitution for a descriptive term that those unfamiliar with definitions used with the book would not know.):
. . . if whites in the Unites States really were to ignore what blacks do, if they really were unaware of what goes on in black communities in American cities, blacks would, in fact, actually have a chance to [develop their businesses]. But black people in their ghettos are regulated absolutely by whites. A black neurosurgeon, Dr. Thomas Matthew (about whom I shall have more to say shortly), replied when he was asked by a white government official how city agencies might help Negro self-help projects, “Get out of my way, and let us try something.” Among well-meaning whites, the latest fad is to give tax exemptions to white corporations to build new housing for blacks and grants of millions to white-owned public utilities and other large corporations to train blacks. This is much like foreign aid to a colony that is not allowed to develop its own work. Along the same lines, a few years ago New York City and the Federal government undertook, with fanfare, to rehabilitate a group of thirty-seven buildings in Harlem. Black-owned construction firms were theoretically free to bid for the work, but there was a booby trap. All thirty-seven buildings were put into one “package.” Therefore, only firms able to get bonding (required by city and Federal regulations) for so large a job could bid for it, and the only firms that could get the bonding were firms that were already doing big jobs, which meant that they were white contracting firms. Of course the works went to a large, white-owned company. If the contracts had been awarded for each building individually— an eminently practical procedure and customary in cases where buildings are being rehabilitated privately in white areas— black contractors could have competed for the jobs. An association of black construction and contracting organizations in New York, struggling to establish a foothold for their work, had begged the city to put the buildings out to bid separately, to no avail. The association, again to no avail, then asked the House of Representatives to investigate this situation and find out why the city was freezing them out of work they were capable of undertaking.
In other words, Jane Jacobs concluded that if you want to create construction work for minority individuals and firms it is not a good idea to agglomerate available construction work and hand it over to monopolies where only white-owned development firms like the Ratner firm are going to be allowed in charge. In the most current popular vernacular we might also regard this, putting aside race entirely, as handing everything over to the 1% Club and expecting some crumbs back.

When I attended the press conference I had just come from the confrontation over the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park so this was on my mind. After the press conference I spoke to one of the plaintiffs about putting everything “in control of the 1% Club and then expecting something back.” First he said that he didn’t care if a job was coming from a member of the 1% Club, he just wanted a job. Then he said that his thoughts on the 1% were really somewhat different. “How can the economy function,” he said, “if the 1% have all the money?”

The question is can you view yourself as truly having a seat at the table when all you are being offered is crumbs? And it’s especially irksome and unfair when the crumbs you are being offered are from a man to whom there was no reason to give control of your table in the first place.

PS: (Added 11/16/2011) As promised, here is the link to comprehensive coverage of the press conference in Atlantic Yards Report (videos included) that links to other local coverage: Wednesday, November 16, 2011, “I was robbed,” claims plaintiff in lawsuit against BUILD and FCR; defendants deny promising jobs and union cards, setting up contest over credibility; claims over unpaid wages in "sham" training program may be easier to prove.

See also ARYs:
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Brutally weird: Times covers lawsuit against BUILD/FCR amid longer article about promotional event for the Nets


Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Documents from the lawsuit against BUILD & FCR: the press release and the legal complaint

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