The pending protest r.e. hiring at SolarCity site

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

It’s not all that often that the city’s black community rallies in great numbers to protest a perceived wrong, but Friday may prove to be one of those exceptions.

Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant is among the organizers of a rally scheduled for 10:30 a.m. outside the gates of the SolarCity plant at Riverbend calling for the project’s 25 percent minority workforce goal to be reinstated. In a Facebook post earlier this month, citing last week’s story by Investigative Post, she wrote: “This is a disgrace for the city of Buffalo and a case of theft of jobs and opportunity for the minority community.”

Buffalo News columnist Rod Watson wrote today that the protest has the potential to “be different from underwhelming rallies of the past … because the national focus on both income inequality and whether black lives really matter has underscored the economic dimensions of racial exclusion.”

Against this backdrop, let me share a few thoughts.

Mayor Byron Brown and David Doyle, a spokesman for Buffalo Billion mastermind Alain Kaloyeros, have been trying to diffuse the situation in part by claiming the project is somehow not the subject of minority hiring goals. That is simply not true. In fact, goals have been set in a project labor agreement that governs the project: 15 percent for minorities, 5 percent for women.

What is not permitted are quotas. There’s a big difference.

Here’s the rub: when the city sold the Riverbend property to the state’s Fort Schuyler Management Corp, the minority hiring goal included in the sale agreements was 25 percent – the same as the city’s own goal for construction projects. The governor’s office subsequently issued not one but two press releases touting the very goals other state officials now contend aren’t permissible.

LPCiminelli, the Riverbend developer, and the Buffalo Building Trades Council, representing the local labour unions, subsequently lowered the goals in a later agreement for reasons no one has yet to properly articulate. LPCiminelli spokesperson Kevin Schuler would only say the 15 percent goal was “more realistic.”

It’s noteworthy that the lowered goals are less ambitious than many, but not all taxpayer financed projects. The minority workforce goal for the now-completed Buffalo schools construction program was 23 percent; for the ongoing development of the University at Buffalo Medical School, 20 percent. On the other hand, the goal for work to refurbish Ralph Wilson Stadium was 13.2 percent.

By the way, LPCiminelli was the developer/construction manager for all three projects, but that’s a story for another day.

Are LPCiminelli and its subcontractors meeting the goals so far?

Investigative Post reported last week that state records we obtained through the Freedom of Information Law showed that minorities accounted for only 6 percent of workers on the job from May 2014 through March of this year. The state steadfastly refused to provide more current data until after our story was published online and broadcast on WGRZ.

Then, on Monday, the state released hiring numbers as of the end of July, which appear to show minorities account for 16 percent of the hours worked since construction commenced.

In short, our numbers and the ones cited by the mayor represent different time periods that use different criteria. Our calculations were handicapped by the refusal of the state and LPCiminelli to provide complete, up-to-date data.

The community should demand full disclosure of all relevant records – and pronto.

We have again asked both the state and LPCiminelli for supporting documentation. Ciminelli is mulling it over. The state, of course, is still sitting on our FOI requests and otherwise acting snarky.

Henry L. Taylor, the University at Buffalo professor who has strongly criticized the lowering of the hiring goals, told me Wednesday the issue isn’t so much whether minorities account for 6 or 16 percent of the workforce, but what share of the work is being performed by minorities from the Buffalo area.

Under the project labor agreement, the local workforce is defined as employees who live within 100 miles of Buffalo and Taylor maintains that’s too loose of a definition. He wants to see numbers down to the city level that indicate whether minorities in one of America’s poorest cities are getting a reasonable share of the Riverbend work.

The Brown press conference Monday struck me as something out of Saturday Night Live. Neither the state nor LPCiminelli was represented at the speaker’s podium. In other words, the white guys calling the shots made themselves scarce.

Instead, they trotted out Brown to do their bidding, although the city has no direct involvement with, or control over, what happens on the construction site. He was flanked by a score of construction workers, most of them minorities and women, two of whom were obviously coached to utter laudatory remarks about diversity at the Riverbend work site. It was kind of painful to watch. I couldn’t help but think that both the mayor and workers were being used. The mayor, anyway, should know better.

Finally, the Gotham Gazette published a story today that describes some rather bizarre behavior on the part of Alain Kaloyeros, the so-called nano-tech guru who is quarterbacking the major Buffalo Billion projects. Kaloyeros told a reporter: “We were instructed in no uncertain terms not to comment on the inquiry from down South with the threat of jail which is being interpreted as we are the target of an investigation.”

In other words, the U.S. Attorney’s office has threatened to put him in jail if he discusses the inquiry. The story goes on to note that such an edict from Bharara’s office is highly unlikely. After all, it’s not against the law to talk about a federal investigation.

Kaloyeros’ comment reminds me of an explanation he gave me last year as to why he would not respond to my interview requests. He told me he was prohibited by law from talking with me because I had submitted FOI requests. Which is, of course, nonsense.

Meanwhile, the Gothamist unloaded on Kaloyeros in a stinging post Thursday afternoon that described him as “an immature, Ferrari-obsessed narcissist who has serious issues with women.”

Folks, this is the guy who the governor has entrusted to spend our billion dollars. And you wonder why Bharara is sniffing around?