As Ikea Plans Red Hook Job-Recruitment Drive, Fairway Stays Silent

By Alan Neuhauser on October 25, 2012 9:01am 

RED HOOK — The biggest of Brooklyn's big-box stores is redoubling its efforts to hire from the local neighborhood, even as its waterfront neighbor, Fairway Supermarket, is deflecting residents' allegations that it has broken a pledge to recruit employees from the community.

Last month, Ikea Brooklyn partnered with the Red Hook Initiative to launch a youth and young adult job recruitment initiative this fall, Ikea local marketing manager Lorna Montalvo said.

"IKEA Brooklyn’s HR team will be working with Red Hook Initiative teen youth at local job fairs, start a job-shadowing program and provide the youth with mock interviews," Montalvo wrote in an email.

"They are also working with each program's candidates to identify potential Red Hook candidates for available positions at IKEA Brooklyn."

For years, neighborhood residents and community leaders have alleged that Ikea and Fairway, which opened amid great fanfare and controversy in 2008 and 2006, failed to follow through on promises to fill their jobs with local residents. 

"At first they hired hundreds of people from the community, and little by little, for one reason or another, they have let them go and the rehiring is not happening within the community," said Red Hook Houses resident Judy Daly, 67, a retired Department of Education therapist who was involved in negotiations with Ikea that helped bring the store to Red Hook.

"We got what we got. I'm grateful for what we have, but I feel we should've gotten more."

Fellow Red Hook Houses resident and community leader Wally Bazemore, 60, was more blunt.

"They lied, and they're full of s—t," he said.

Fairway declined to comment. 

Neither the supermarket nor Ikea received economic incentives from the city or state to build in Red Hook, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation. They made no written commitments to hire Red Hook residents.

Nevertheless, in a series of meetings with community-based organizations, including the Red Hook Houses tenants associations, the Red Hook Civic Association and Red Hook Rise, Ikea and Fairway representatives did state that they would hire from within the 11231 zip code, which includes Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill.

"We wanted it in writing," Daly recalled. The community groups and their members, however, "started fighting with each other, because some people felt like if we pushed the limit, then we weren't going to get it. So just stop and accept what they're offering."

As Bazemore described, "People felt they could trust Ikea, they could trust Fairway." And, he continued, there wasn't much choice. "We were desperate for jobs."

South Brooklyn's unemployment rate has hovered around 9 percent since the 2008 market crash, according to the state and federal labor departments, but it is believed to be higher in Red Hook, where nearly three-quarters of the population lives in the Red Hook Houses, New York City's second-largest housing project that's home to more than 8,000 residents.

Ikea and Fairway have not released the number of employees at their Red Hook stores, or how many of those staff members hail from Red Hook. However, Daly, Bazemore and others say they've seen a steep drop in the number of Red Hook employees since the stores opened, prompting the community board, SBIDC and the Red Hook Initiative to meet with Ikea Brooklyn's human resources department and the store's general manager.

"We've made some really good, substantial progress," Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman said.

"The new manager who's there now is really gung-ho and wants to be seen as being an active neighbor and partner in the community. As soon as we brought this subject up, they couldn't get to the table quickly enough."

Next month, RHI and Ikea plan to introduce their job-recruitment campaign: an eight-week work-placement program for 10 Red Hook residents ages 18 to 24. Participants will be paid with funds that RHI raised from private sources — which do not include Ikea — and if the work-placement program goes well, Ikea will hire the participants full time.

"They've always been a good partner for us," RHI executive director Jill Eisenhard said.

"When we moved into our building, they donated furniture and a lot of things for our kitchen. For several years, they offered supplies for our college students."

Fairway, however, is a different story: Officials with the community board, SBIDC and RHI said  they have not met with store, and none of the groups is aware of any Fairway job-hiring or recruitment program for Red Hook.

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