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Contractors Fined Millions for Failing to Hire Local Workers During Arena Construction

Mon April 02, 2018 - National Edition
Emily Buenzle


During the construction of Detroit's $862.9 million Little Caesar's Arena, just 25 percent of the hours worked by skilled-trades workers were residents of the city, despite Detroit's rule that 51 percent of hours completed on publicly funded projects be worked by those living in the city.
During the construction of Detroit's $862.9 million Little Caesar's Arena, just 25 percent of the hours worked by skilled-trades workers were residents of the city, despite Detroit's rule that 51 percent of hours completed on publicly funded projects be worked by those living in the city.

During the construction of Detroit's $862.9 million Little Caesar's Arena, just 25 percent of the hours worked by skilled-trades workers were residents of the city, despite Detroit's rule that 51 percent of hours completed on publicly funded projects be worked by those living in the city.

The 25 percent of hours worked by Detroit residents through October 2017 was lower than the 27 percent that was reported through March 2017, The Detroit News reported. By March 2017, contractors paid $2.9 million in fines for not meeting the 51 percent requirement; that figure increased to $5.2 million by October 2017. Just in the month of October, Detroit fined a total of 44 contractors ranging from more than $51,000 for an electrical contractor down to just $9.63 for a painting contractor, The Detroit News reported.

Worker Shortage

According to Portia Robertson, director of Detroit's Office of Human Rights, the compliance data collected from this project has put a spotlight on the city's workforce demand.

“The biggest thing we heard when we first started doing compliance is 'There's not enough Detroiters.' 'There's not enough Detroiters in the skilled trades.' 'We can never make the numbers that we need to make because we don't have anybody to do those jobs,'” said Robertson. “It became important to the mayor, to the administration that we didn't just become a fee-collecting sort of office and that in fact we were using the data that we were receiving in terms of where's the shortfall.”

Much of the money Detroit has collected in fines has gone toward funding training programs to help alleviate the skilled trades labor shortage: $2.9 million of the $5.2 million collected has been allotted for workforce development initiatives, and the department has been promised another $2.5 million for 2018. The Detroit News reported.

According to Jeff Donofrio, executive director of Detroit's workforce development, the highest demand within the city is for electricians, along with steel workers and plumbers, The Detroit News reported.

“We're trying to build the pipeline for individuals going into the trades, going into construction, taking advantage of these job opportunities,” said Donofrio. “Sometimes that might be entry-level construction opportunities, sometimes that will be an actual pathway to journeyman and a very long-term career in construction.”