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City hears call for local jobs at casino

About 100 people filled the City Council chambers Wednesday evening for a hearing on a council resolution to address jobs and local hiring at the city’s planned $400 million casino.

The hearing was called as the project gets under way — groundbreaking is expected this spring — and it attracted dozens of job seekers eager to apply for 2,000 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent jobs inside the casino

The casino, to be known as Caesars Horseshoe Baltimore, will be located on Russell Street and owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp. It is expected to open in mid-2014.

“In the process of building the city up, I don’t want to see the neighborhoods torn down,” said James Commander, a city resident who said he came looking for a job. “In the next 10 years or so, if the people aren’t working, the casino won’t survive.”

Chad Barnhill, the casino’s future general manager, told the council members that Caesars is committed to local hiring.

“To be successful with the casino here in Baltimore, we need Baltimore residents,” Barnhill said. “We will train for specific skills.”

City Councilman Nick Mosby asked Barnhill about hiring ex-offenders at the casino, a potential stumbling block. Barnhill replied that Caesars is working with the State Lottery Commission to address restrictions on hiring ex-offenders.

Karen L. Sitnick, who heads the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, told the council that Caesars is going to fund a full-time community recruitment coordinator for 12 months to help identify local workers.

Sitnick said the city is also going to train potential workers for Caesars’ online job processing, which includes a digital interview.

“We’re going to cast a very broad net,” she said. “We will work with every city community group and neighborhood.”

She said Caesars had pledged to give the city employment reports twice a year that will outline where its workers are coming from. A memorandum of understanding signed with the state specifies a preference to hire workers from within a 10-mile radius of the casino. That would include portions of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

The hearing, which lasted two hours, was held before the council’s Labor Committee at City Hall. Councilwoman Helen Holton, chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, expressed skepticism over whether the city will be able to afford everything it is promising.

“You’ve laid out a good game plan,” she said. “Is Caesars putting in money to make it happen?”

The Laborers International Union of North America is working with many of the job seekers who showed up last night, training them in construction work and trying to make sure they’re given a fair shot at the jobs.

Jobs at the new casino will include workers on the gaming floor, restaurant employees, retail workers and security. The employment potential increased this fall after voters approved adding table games to the state’s casinos.

Before the casino opens, many more workers are expected to be hired by the general contractor, Whiting-Turner, to build the facility and an adjacent parking garage.

Community Churches United, a local advocacy group, has pushed for local hiring at some of the largest developments in the city, including the Superblock on the city’s inner West Side and the new casino.

“We need local hiring and fair wages,” said Richie Armstrong, a CCU organizer. “There has to be a fair opportunity for these jobs — a fair hiring process. We don’t want all the jobs to go to out-of-town workers.”

Armstrong said that local hiring figures show a lag in success. Of the four development projects under way at the $1.8 billion East Baltimore Development Inc. project in Middle East, only 2.5 percent of construction employees have been Baltimore residents, he said.