KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Labor and community groups are urging the Knoxville City Council to postpone their upcoming vote on a multi-use downtown stadium proposal until an agreement on inclusive workforce hiring practices and compensation can be reached.

Some of those labor groups showed up at Monday night’s joint commission meeting to express their concerns with the lack of a community benefits agreement.

“I would like to see it postponed right now. Postponed because I think they’ve missed one huge aspect of this project which would be the workforce, the labor. And not only the labor but those in retail that are going to be at the stadium for the next 30 years. Once again, they say that’s only going to be competitive wages but where is the standard? Where is the rock bottom what is that going to be for these folks who work these jobs,” said Chris Okeefe, business manager for iron workers level three and four.

The Nov. 8 joint commission meeting lasted nearly four hours. There was a robust discussion between elected officials and the key players in the project. While some elected officials expressed their excitement for the project to move forward, others said they wanted more time to go through the project agreements with a fine tooth comb.

Representatives of the Knoxville Construction & Building Trades Council, the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Central
Labor Council and other community groups are asking City Council to postpone the scheduled Nov. 16 vote on a $74.5 million, multi-use stadium proposal led by Tennessee Smokies owner and University of Tennessee president Randy Boyd.

The labor groups released a statement expressing concern that local workers could be left out in favor of low-wage, temp and out-of-state labor without a workforce agreement. The labor council representatives are pushing for an agreement that would include a wage floor of $15.50 for all future stadium workers and a minimum of 40% of construction workers from the Knoxville area.

Other key agreements proposed include:

  • A preference for minority and disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) contractors
  • A targeted hiring program focused on long-term career development for people with barriers to employment, especially from East Knoxville
  • Construction contractors and sub-contractors that provide ACA compliant health insurance, use U.S. Department of Labor certified apprenticeship programs, and require safety training for supervisors and hourly workers

The council also seeks to create a labor advisory committee to monitor compliance with the workforce agreement and issue an annual report.

“Following our meeting with Boyd Sports and other stakeholders, we were hopeful about the establishment of clear workforce agreements in the new development. However, after reading the takeaways that they sent to you last month, we felt there were some significant gaps between our understanding of what we proposed and what they communicated.”

Representatives of the Knoxville Construction & Building Trades Council, the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Central
Labor Council and other community groups

GEM Community Development Group, the private partner to Boyd Sports, had previously committed to hiring at least 15% minority and women-owned firms for contracting and subcontracting, identifying and training minority entrepreneurs, recruiting a diverse workforce and offering some existing business owners space at the site at below-market-rate prices. Boyd has not committed to a minimum wage for future stadium workers, saying that those wages would be determined by the market.

If it gets the green light, the complex would be publicly owned and financed, then leased by Boyd Sports to become the new home of the Tennessee Smokies, One Knoxville Sporting Club as well as concerts and festivals throughout the year. GEM Community Development Group said they plan to invest more than $100 million to build apartments, condos, restaurants and offices in East Knoxville. 

The economic impact report forecasted the project would result in $477 million in direct spending for the city, $487 million for the county, and $372 million in direct spending for the state.