Holdup for Encore Boston Harbor Only Hurts Everett Workers

(This op-ed first appeared in the Boston Globe last week, and is reprinted in the Independent with permission)

When it comes to the Encore Boston Harbor casino, the $2.6 billion Everett casino being built along the Mystic River by Wynn Resorts, there is but one question remaining: What exactly is the holdup?

By any measure, what former CEO Steve Wynn allegedly did is reprehensible. As we have seen with the parade of men behaving badly in the wake of #MeToo, sexual misconduct among powerful men is almost never the result of one bad actor preying on women. In most cases there is a group of enablers, honeypots, and assorted interests looking the other way or protecting themselves. And indeed, for months, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has been looking into the allegations at Wynn Resorts to determine who knew what and when about their CEO’s actions before finalizing its approval for Encore.

These are important questions, and anyone associated with protecting that kind of behavior should have no role whatsoever in Wynn Resorts or Encore.

But here’s the thing: All of those people are already gone. The board has been replaced. Senior management has been replaced. Wynn himself has not only left Encore’s parent company but is suing the business that still bears his name. The only senior person still at Wynn is its since-elevated CEO, who has said he did not know about the allegations.

So who is being punished while the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is still investigating people who no longer work at Wynn Resorts? That would be the men and women who are looking to the casino for professional opportunity and the chance at a better life for themselves and their families, and the City of Everett, which is in desperate need of an economic boost and urban renewal. All told, Encore promises to deliver 5,000 job opportunities for people in Massachusetts: good-paying, blue-collar jobs, from dealers to wait staff to cooks. Many of these people have already begun training. 

 Encore has developed a comprehensive diversity and inclusion policy, following months of soliciting the input of educators and community stakeholders regarding best practices for building its local workforce (I was not involved in these or any Encore discussions).

Encore’s Workforce Development Plan commits the company to prioritizing hiring and recruiting from the communities in the Boston area with the largest African-American and Latino populations: Everett, Boston, Cambridge, Malden, Chelsea, Somerville, and Medford. Half of its hires will be women, four in 10 will be minorities, and it will feature a hiring preference for former Suffolk Downs employees.

In addition, not only does the plan require Encore to hire 900 people who don’t speak fluent English, but it also commits to offering them free ESL courses to improve their English-speaking skills. Indeed, the plan commits Encore to strengthening the training and career opportunities of its new employees — from computer training and free GED classes for those who have not completed high school to specific career pathways such as culinary training and launching a Gaming Institute in partnership with Cambridge College to prepare people to become dealers, casino specialists, and cooks.

To be sure, partnerships with Bunker Hill, Roxbury, and North Shore community colleges will provide opportunities for recruitment from communities of color as well as furthering employees’ education, ensuring that within 8 to 10 years, dealers can move into management roles and cooks can become executive chefs.

Some, understandably, question the motives behind all this. Others say the proof is in the pudding. I agree. And while Encore has mostly exceeded its hiring goals thus far, using minority- women- and veteran-owned businesses for roughly a quarter of its design contracts and 20 percent of construction work, we need to hold them accountable for delivering on what this plan has pledged. That is why the company must honor its commitment to meet regularly with groups like the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, La Communidad, veterans’ groups, and community career advisers.

The ugly alleged behavior of Wynn Resorts’ former CEO and those who enabled it can’t be undone. But instead of ignoring what transpired, the company has owned what happened — and offered up a new and more compelling future. We should embrace that future. The Encore plan could be a model for large employers across the Commonwealth. Blocking the resort’s path forward or letting it die a slow death in endless litigation would be tantamount to wasting thousands of career opportunities for those who need them most. These opportunities don’t come around for communities of color that often. Approving Encore is the right thing to do for our communities and a good bet for our state.

Colette Phillips is the president,    Colette Phillips Communications, Inc.

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