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Proposed Community Benefit Agreement could promote local hires for expected Knoxville multi-use stadium

"People should be a part of the economic benefits connected to this stadium, particularly since tax dollars are going to be used in funding it," officials said.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A multi-use stadium is expected to come to Old City, Knoxville in 2024. The development would promise hundreds of jobs, both short and long term.

The total economic impact of the stadium and surrounding private development is projected to be nearly $480 million over 30 years. However, the investment to make this happen is around $75 million. The state would put in $13.5 million, and the rest would be comprised of tax-payer dollars.

The Knoxville-Oak Ridge Central Labor Council wants to make sure that money stays in the local economy. They proposed a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) to the City Council, Sports Authority, entrepreneur and philanthropist Randy Boyd, and partners in the GEM Development Group. 

"We just really think that since tax dollars from here in Knoxville and Knox County are going to be used to fund the stadium, that local people should be given a priority when it comes to hiring," said June Rostan, the Vice President of the union.

A CBA is a formal contract, in writing, between a developer and a broad community and/or labor coalition that details the project’s contributions to the community and ensures community support for the project.

It will address a range of workforce and community issues.

Top Priority: Local Hires

"We just really think that since tax dollars from here in Knoxville and Knox County are going to be used to fund the stadium, that local people should be given a priority when it comes to hiring," Rostan said.

Often times with projects of this size, developers will hire construction and ironworkers from outside of the county or state to help with the job.

"I've seen too many jobs that aren't locally done by people who live here," Chris O'Keefe said.

O'Keefe, an organizer for the local ironworkers, said it's common for construction workers to travel frequently on the job.

"We go where the work's at. So, if not here, the guys are on the road traveling to do that work," O'Keefe said. "They're away from their families or missing their kids' ballpark ball games."

There are many of the workers who would prefer to be at home with their family and friends.

"Keeping this work locally means that you don't have those workers going out of town and missing their kids' opportunities. Our guys can stay at home and make those ball games and be at those events on Saturday," O'Keefe said.

In addition to the family benefit, the idea to hire locals first would keep that money in the local economy.

"Those jobs should go to people who are in Knoxville," Rostan said, "Those are the people who need to benefit from this economic development around the stadium."

However, the CBA goes beyond just asking for local hires. The union said it wants that agreement to be in writing.

"I think a project like this size in Knoxville should be in writing to guarantee that we have local hire inside of that," O'Keefe said.

Wage Floor of $15.50

The CBA also proposes a wage floor of $15.50 per hour for all stadium workers.

It is important to note that this dollar amount is not set-in-stone, like everything else with the proposition, it is still on the negotiating table.

"Hopefully the wages would be higher than that," Rostan said. "That would, ideally, be like a starting wage."

If a wage floor is established, then nobody at the stadium (from custodial staff to ticketers to construction workers) would make less than the established amount. 

However, they could still make more. According to Rostan, $15.50 would be the bare minimum. 

The minimum wage in Tennessee is $7.25. If the wage floor is established, workers would make double the amount of minimum wage.

Rostan said she hopes the union can come to an agreement with the Sports Authority on offering "livable wages" for everyone who works in the stadium.

"It's a wage that will allow people to be able to support themselves, their children, their families; and, do the things that most people expect to be able to do for their children, like buy clothes, provide food and shelter. That's getting harder and harder to do at low wages," Rostan said.

O'Keefe couldn't agree more.

"It guarantees people, I can stay at home, I can make good money, there's no need to look for a different job, " O'Keefe said.

Safety Contracts

Safety is another point of concern in the CBA. This is a big point of interest in the agreement on the construction end.

O'Keefe said ironworkers have many months of experience prior to working on a major project, such as the potential stadium. However, even the most experienced workers still have occasional accidents. 

"On the job site, you've got guys with many years of experience and guys with only a few, and they all work in the same gang," O'Keefe said.

When workers are contracted from out of the state, they have to learn to work with new people.

"There's a lot more care when it's people that live together and work together," O'Keefe said. "You got a 30-year career that you're going to be with these members. They're your family."

The goal for the family is for everyone to come to work safely and leave work safely. Often they're on elevated platforms and holding heavy tools.

"We should care that everyone comes in and then leaves work the same way. They all got tiny 10 fingers and 10 toes and they're ready to go," O'Keefe said.

What's next for the Community benefit Agreement?

Both O'Keefe and Rostan admit they came in late to the negotiating table for the stadium. However, they believe the CBA will get attention.

Some members of the union showed up to the Sports Authority meeting on Tuesday to call attention to the agreement.

Rostan said that they reached out to GEM Developments and will be setting up a meeting soon.

O'Keefe wants everyone to be on the same page and come together to bring more benefits to community members.

"When we're giving our taxpayer dollars for a contractor to build the stadium, they're gonna make money. That's fine. That's great. Right, continue to do so. But let's make sure that other local people can provide for the families safely," O'Keefe said.