A Missoula City Council committee sent the Riverfront Triangle development agreement on to the next step after a delay last week from the mayor.
Mayor John Engen attempted mediation last week between the developers and the Community Benefits Coalition on a right-to-unionize clause and succeeded only in attaching a paragraph restating existing federal labor law to the agreement.
“He made a good faith effort to try to find some agreement and it didn’t work,” Nugent told the Administration and Finance Committee. “Really, what’s hanging in the balance potentially is whether the project goes forward.”
The Riverfront Triangle agreement proposes to build a hotel and conference center at the corner of Front and Orange streets, in a public-private partnership between the city and Hotel Fox Partners.
About 18 months ago, a group called the Community Benefits Coalition approached Hotel Fox with a list of demands they had regarding best building and operating practices in Missoula.
Included in that list was a labor peace agreement, which would prevent the developer from interfering with their employees’ right to unionize.
The coalition put pressure on the city to make sure the labor peace agreement was in the master development agreement that the Missoula Redevelopment Agency board approved two weeks ago.
The developers maintain they will not sign the agreement, as it “goes far beyond a neutrality agreement,” according to Hotel Fox partner Pat Corrick.
Coalition leader Mark Anderlik said their group isn’t prepared to stop putting pressure on the situation if that continues to be the case.
“We’re going to do the things that we need to do. That could include a boycott, that could include a picket outside,” Anderlik said. “That could hurt the city’s financial interest.”
The committee went half an hour over time Wednesday debating the issue and hearing from the developer and the coalition before passing the master agreement sans labor union promises. Committee members took that action after it became clear none of the council, as well as City Attorney Jim Nugent, had actually seen a copy of the proposed labor agreement.
“I’ve been disappointed on the educational aspects on this from just about everybody,” Ward 1 representative Bryan von Lossberg said.
The project itself consists of a 200-room hotel as well as a 29,000-square-foot conference center, with underground parking.
The conference center and parking garage would be sold back to the city once they're built for around $15 million total.
The coalition wants its labor agreement to apply to hotel employees as well as the conference center workers, both of whom wouldn't be employed by the city.
The committee asked multiple times why the labor agreement was different than federal labor law and why the issue was so necessary at this early step in the process, but failed to get solid answers on either point.
Von Lossberg and others promised to read up on the proposed agreement before the entire City Council votes on the proposal Monday night, to have a better understanding of what the coalition was asking for.
He also asked Nugent to have answers on how the city would be liable if it didn’t require the agreement. Anderlik had said it was in the city’s best interests to force the developers to sign.
“This council values labor. It values unions,” Ward 3 representative Gwen Jones said. “It’s really a huge policy decision, which, attaching it by Velcro to this project might not necessarily be the best thing.”