Chanting “We want jobs” and “If we don’t work, nobody works,” about 200 city residents marched on East Baltimore Development Inc. headquarters Tuesday, demanding more employment opportunities at the 88-acre redevelopment site.
BCCU was seeking a signed commitment from EBDI to hire 50 percent of the project’s workforce from the community, organizer Richie Armstrong said.
Tuesday’s protest march lasted more than two hours. The group met at Triumph Christian Church and Ministries at 2200 E. Oliver St. and then took up 100 signs and marched a mile through East Baltimore to EBDI’s headquarters at 1731 E. Chase St., chanting all the way.
“I have a copy of a minority inclusion agreement that was signed in 2002 by [then-] Mayor Martin O’Malley, EBDI and Johns Hopkins University,” Armstrong said. “It says ‘We will create 8,000 jobs at the site.’ So what’s the problem?”
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Roberta Brice, 49 and a resident of the Middle East community, showed up to protest because she said she has been unemployed for half a year.
“We’ve got to stand and go back to work. I need employment,” Brice said, holding a sign that read: “Want Justice, Want Jobs.”
After nearly an hour of chanting and marching outside EBDI’s headquarters occurred, Christopher Shea, EBDI’s CEO, emerged to meet with the protesters as city police officers and EBDI security officers and employees gathered nearby.
“EBDI the nonprofit is going to work as hard as it can to place as many people in jobs as we can,” Shea told the group, speaking through a bullhorn. “We have our [workforce] pipeline. We have our process. Now, there are 500 people in our pipeline.”
Shea said EBDI is not responsible for “building buildings” in the project, which started a decade ago. He advised BCCU to meet with private developers working at the site to try to secure jobs for its members.
“We acquire land, we relocate families and we operate the school,” Shea said. “We do not build buildings.”
Pipeline ‘filled to capacity’
Cheryl Washington, EBDI’s senior director of community and human services, told the protesters to register for EBDI’s workforce “pipeline,” a system that assesses potential workers from the community and compiles a list to present to contractors.
“If you are considered job-ready, we’ll get you on the job,” Washington pledged, adding that the EBDI job pipeline is “filled to capacity” with eager candidates from five targeted ZIP codes in East Baltimore.
“Everybody is in competition for jobs because they are tight,” Washington said.
A series published in The Daily Record earlier this year found differing employment statistics for the project, and that many of the jobs have been temporary construction jobs that lasted an average of two months. Of the 2,378 jobs created during the project’s first decade, 695 had been on the EBDI staff. The 695 jobs include 70 in security work for Broadway Services and a variety of permanent positions on the EBDI staff as well as teachers and staff at the East Baltimore Community School and positions in health care, education, customer service, hospitality and tourism, according to information supplied by EBDI.
EBDI’s website said it had “helped place 746 East Baltimore residents in jobs, including 250 who obtained work through EBDI’s workforce development pipeline,” as of November 2010.
A recent report by one of EBDI’s partners in the redevelopment, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said EBDI’s workforce program has placed 187 East Baltimore residents in jobs from January 2004 to June 2007.
“Since the EBDI workforce pipeline was launched in November 2007, it has helped place 206 East Baltimore residents in jobs, including 32 in the EBDI project area,” the Casey report said.
EBDI has received federal funds based on the premise that a biotech park anticipated to be built at the site would create 1,750 jobs. Plans for several private life sciences buildings have been put on hold, as EBDI officials and Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, the master developer, are on a third rewrite of the mission statement for the development. More than $564 million has already been committed to the $1.8 billion project — $212.6 million of that in public funds.
Armstrong, the BCCU organizer, told the group Tuesday to press forward for employment opportunities at the site. About $250 million in new construction is expected to begin there, he said, with the addition of a new public school, parking garage and lab for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
BCCU will begin training its members in mid-January to apply for construction-related jobs, Armstrong said.
Union vs. non-union workers
The training will be held with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which Shea said could produce a roadblock for BCCU’s efforts to place local workers in jobs with Turner Construction Co., the developer of the $30 million parking garage and the $184.4 million state DHMH lab.
“Labor agreements, that’s way over my head,” Shea told the protesters, adding that EBDI would not sign a workforce agreement with a labor union. “You will have to meet with Turner. I will support you with that.”
In an email sent to The Daily Record on Tuesday after the protest march, Washington said EBDI is geared toward non-union partnerships.
“As you know, for the most part Baltimore City is a non-union town, so most contractors in Baltimore City, particularly the local minority and women-owned contractors that EBDI is also committed to getting contracts in the project area, are non-union affiliated so they typically don’t hire union-affiliated workers,” Washington’s email said.
“Because of this reality and in an effort to get local residents trained for the construction jobs, EBDI has as one of our workforce partners the JumpStart Pre-apprenticeship training program that is non-union affiliated and training East Baltimore residents in carpentry, electrical, plumbing and HVAC. In addition, EBDI has already skilled non-union affiliated workers in our Pipeline that we are working to connect to jobs. We are happy to partner with others as well,” Washington added.
An August economic inclusion plan by EBDI includes a goal of hiring at least 15 percent of the workers for commercial construction projects at the site from the community.
“The first priority is to be given to residents residing in, relocated from or otherwise impacted by the EBDI revitalization project area,” the inclusion plan said, detailing that area as bordered by Madison Avenue on the south, Broadway on the west, Patterson Park Avenue on the east and the Amtrak tracks to the north.
That was not the experience of protester Herman Stokes, 55, a trained bricklayer and painter who has been out of work for a decade.
Stokes said he had approached EBDI for work at the site, but was discouraged. He came out to march Tuesday in hopes of getting another chance.
“I said something to them two months ago but they didn’t try to be interested,” Stokes said. “They said nothing positive where I felt like I could get somewhere. I am qualified and trained. I can build houses.”
Click here to see photos from the EBDI protest.