In July of 2013, less than a week before Springfield voters would decide whether to approve MGM’s casino offer, the company held what it called “career prep workshops.”
“They’re looking for everything – hostess, front desk, dealers…guest room attendants, everything,” said Natasha Hodge, then a 19-year-old college student.
"At first I was pretty skeptical, but now I think there’s hope for Springfield," said Michael Hill, who was unemployed at the time. "I’m anticipating this."
MGM promised to create 2,000 construction jobs and hire at least 3,000 people to work at the casino. The company made specific promises for how many of the jobs would go to city residents, women, racial and ethnic minorities and veterans.
On Friday, August 24, it finally opens.
Kari Njiiri, NEPR: Let's look at the big numbers: has MGM met that 3,000 person goal?
Sam Hudzik, NEPR: MGM has been doing a lot of hiring in recent weeks, and the company says it expects to reach that goal by opening. It also says it’ll meet some other jobs goals outlined in the deal – which was called a "host community agreement" – that MGM struck with Springfield back in 2013.
The deal called for 35 percent of the jobs to go to city residents, 50 percent to women, 50 percent to racial and ethnic minorities and at least 2 percent to veterans. The last update MGM made public had numbers from the end of July. And without all of the employees yet on board, it was meeting those goals, except it was a little short on women.
I should say that city officials and gaming commission members have been really impressed by MGM's efforts to recruit applicants to try to meet these goals – as well as similar targets for construction work.
And are these absolute requirements, or just goals?
That’s tricky. The language in the host community agreement states that these aren't quotas or set-asides, but that MGM will “use its best efforts to strive to achieve labor participation goal.” So there's some wiggle room there. I asked the gaming commission's spokesperson, Elaine Driscoll, what would happen if they determined MGM wasn't using its best efforts, and she said regulators have "broad authority to determine appropriate next steps" if any problems arise.
Let's look closer at the residency question. I understand the definition of a Springfield resident changed between 2013 when voters OKed the casino and now.
Right – and this is no small point. Springfield voters OKed this casino in part because they wanted these jobs. Springfield residents volunteered on that pro-casino campaign because many wanted a chance to get these jobs. And the original deal said MGM would only meet its 35 percent goal for Springfield residents if those employees had lived in the city for at least a year before they were hired.
But MGM and city officials agreed to a couple revisions which voters did not have to approve. The most recent change was in July. The net effect is that at any given time, 35 percent of the casino's employees must live in the city, but where they lived before now makes no difference.
Why did the city and MGM make that change?
Well, the amendment said it was because MGM's human resources software would only track an employee's current address – not the address when they were hired. This change would deal with that.
And Mike Fenton, the city councilor who leads the casino oversight committee, defended the change.
“If somebody has just recently moved to the city, or is relocating as a part of their job search, we felt that it was appropriate for that to be included in the 35 percent,” Fenton said. “And actually, that type of investment and that type of migration – if you will – is a good thing and a natural thing and a good thing for Springfield’s property values.”
So how many of these jobs are full-time?
Of the 3,000 jobs in the casino, MGM is required by its deal to have 2,200 be full-time. The rest are part-time and on-call employees. MGM appears to be on its way there. But when we talk about the percentages of employees that are women, racial and ethnic minorities, veterans and Springfield residents – we have no idea how many of those groups have been offered full-time jobs.
Why don't we have that breakdown?
That's a question, Kari, that I've been asking for weeks, and the answer is that the deal MGM struck with Springfield does not differentiate between full-time and not full-time.
It seemed to me that this was a significant piece of data, because full-time jobs are obviously the most lucrative in pay and are the only MGM jobs that come with health insurance. And how do we know MGM isn't hiring a disproportionate share of city residents and women into part-time and on-call roles?
So I asked MGM to clear that up and provide that breakdown. I asked at least four times and was told their human resources department was too busy to run those numbers.
OK, well – we'll just keep asking.
Definitely. And it's possible the gaming commission will, too. Through a spokesperson, the commission's head of workforce and diversity, Jill Griffin, said MGM was meeting its statutory requirements. But she said that question would be “worth further consideration once employment numbers begin to stabilize." And City Councilor Fenton tells me he's going to be asking MGM for those numbers, too.
Disclosure: MGM has purchased underwriting from New England Public Radio publicizing the company's non-gambling activities. The NEPR newsroom operates independently of the station's development department, and editorial decisions are made without regard to any funding relationships.