Gilbane-Turner claims 40% workforce diversity on Bills stadium

Dive Brief:

  • After taking heat for falling short of initial workforce diversity hiring goals, a Gilbane-Turner joint venture has awarded 40% of contracts on the new Buffalo Bills’ NFL stadium project to minority-, women- or service-disabled veteran-owned companies, Turner Construction told Construction Dive. 
  • The Orchard Park, New York, project has awarded 55 subcontracts worth $163 million to minority-, women- or service-disabled veteran-owned companies. That constitutes 39.9% of the $408 million in awards thus far on the job, according to Turner spokesperson Chris McFadden.
  • The Bills and its contractors drew fire from Erie County Legislature Chairperson April Baskin in July for falling short of initial hiring goals. Peter Davoren, Turner’s CEO, told Construction Dive that Baskin’s efforts had an impact on the project. “April shook the tree, and it needed to be shaken,” Davoren said. “I’m glad that she did, because I feel now that all stakeholders are on the same page.”

Dive Insight:

Gilbane-Turner’s updated claims of underrepresented workforce participation on the stadium job are a stark turnaround from initial results earlier this year. 

In June, Empire Development, New York State’s economic development arm, found the project had hired just 2.3% minority-, 4.7% women- and 0.4% service-disabled veteran-owned businesses for the job. The agency did not respond to Construction Dive’s queries for comment on the project’s current claims. 

Funded with $850 million in public dollars, the Bills are required to make a good faith effort to employ 15% minority- 15% women- and 6% service-disabled veteran-owned businesses on the new stadium, which could cost as much as $1.7 billion, according to the Associated Press. 

Diversity and workforce participation from traditionally underrepresented groups, especially on high-profile, taxpayer-funded jobs, has become a rallying cry in the construction industry. The sector is trying to shed its racist, White-guys-only image and recruit more workers of color to help combat an endemic labor shortage. The industry’s upcoming Construction Inclusion Week, which begins Oct. 16, is one initiative that aims to do both. 

But in the wake of Empire Development’s findings, Baskin voiced concern the JV team was just going through the motions to establish a paper trail that it had made a good faith effort, before submitting waivers once the project was complete, a practice that’s perceived as commonplace in the construction industry. 

Davoren said Baskin’s knowledge of the industry impressed him, but it didn’t shock him that she picked up on firms using waivers at the end of the process when goals haven’t been met. 

“I wasn’t surprised, because it’s done,” Davoren said. He noted firms sometimes approach workforce participation goals at the beginning of a job with a predetermined view that they won’t be able to meet them, given the capacity challenges for underrepresented contractors in many markets. 

In that case, “you’re already a defeatist before you even start,” Davoren said. “But if you set your goals that we are going to do everything humanly possible to include these companies and companies like it in order for there to be equity, then the percentages become even higher than the goals.”

Dirtwork nearly complete

As for construction progress on the stadium to date, McFadden told Construction Dive crews have almost completed excavation and will begin foundation work shortly, followed by structural steel. Minority-, women-, and service disabled-veteran owned firms have been involved in the early work, including site fencing, demolition, temporary lighting and excavation.

He also said Gilbane-Turner was holding additional “meet the primes” sessions with local companies, including one on Nov. 1, to facilitate connections with local businesses. 

After the initial workforce participation shortfalls became public, Baskin advocated for holding those sessions somewhere other than just at the site of the stadium in Orchard Park, New York, about 20 minutes from downtown Buffalo, where urban workers may live. 

Additional sessions have since been scheduled in East Buffalo, and the cities of Tonawanda and Lackawanna. 

But now that apparent progress has been made on initial underrepresented workforce goals at the stadium, Baskin has another ask for the NFL team and its contractors: to include more local firms in the hiring mix. 

According to the Buffalo News, the Erie County Legislature voted Oct. 5 to create a New Stadium Community Inclusion Task Force to help ensure that happens. 

The newspaper quoted Baskin as saying,“How are we going to include local residents in this project?”

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