The NFL stadium plan that sped through Inglewood City Hall last month now faces its first major obstacle: A petition drive launched by a powerful labor group that could delay the project unless developers guarantee more union jobs and better wages.
Even as it negotiates deals for construction and long-term work at the stadium backed by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is gathering signatures to force a public vote on the project.
An election could slow the stadium by months and cost Kroenke his lead in the race to return a professional football team to Los Angeles.
The Federation's main concern, executive secretary Rusty Hicks said, is that the development agreement that Inglewood's City Council unanimously approved Feb. 24 doesn't mandate well-paying, long-term jobs during and after construction of the $1.86 billion stadium and the entertainment and retail complex around it.
"The developer should make good on its promise and provide signed, written agreements committing to good jobs for the project's construction and operations," said Hicks, whose group represents about 300 labor unions. "We've got enough poverty jobs. We don't need any more."
The Federation has until March 25 to qualify the measure for a referendum, Inglewood City Clerk Yvonne Horton said. If the labor group can get about 6,000 verified signatures, the Inglewood City Council has two choices: It could repeal its earlier vote, which would kill the initiative. Or it could schedule a special election for a public vote on the initiative — likely in August or September.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said he's confident the issue won't get that far.
"I'm certain within the next five to seven days everything will be worked out to everyone's satisfaction," Butts said.
Hicks echoed the optimism.
"I'm hopeful we will get to a resolution," Hicks said. "The developer says that they want an agreement and I know that we want an agreement so I'm hopeful."
Kroenke and his partners are pushing back. In response to the union's signature-gathering effort, Citizens for Revitalizing the City of Champions, a group funded by Kroenke and Bay Area-investment firm Stockbridge Capital, circulated an email to project supporters urging them not to sign "the anti-stadium petition" by "outside special interests backing competing stadium plans."
"Their goal is to first delay and then stop the project completely," the email said.
The Federation, though, says it has no favorite in the stadium race. It will seek the same agreements on the $1.7-billion stadium proposed in Carson by the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders.
Mark Fabiani, the Chargers' point man on stadium issues, said supporters of the Carson project have no connection to the Inglewood referendum.
A spokesman for AEG, which teamed with labor to win approvals in 2012 from the L.A. City Council for the downtown Farmers Field stadium, said it is "not in any way involved."
The Federation has helped lead campaigns to raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles, and to boost pay at a number of private employers in the region. While many of its member groups represent service workers — including hotel maids, janitors, government employees and healthcare workers — the Federation has also allied with big developers to create construction jobs.
In this case, the Inglewood stadium project has already committed to use union labor to build the stadium and development around it at Hollywood Park. Negotiations over those contracts, however, are ongoing, Hicks said.
"We want to have it in writing before the first shovel hits the ground," he said.
The project's development agreement with the city sets a goal that 35% of post-construction jobs would go to Inglewood residents and promises outreach and training programs to help local residents get those jobs.
"We are proud of our commitment to union labor for construction, anticipate long-term union jobs after construction and also underscore the fact that local hiring provisions for the project will bring new opportunities to Inglewood residents and businesses," said Chris Meany, a senior vice president for the Hollywood Park Land Co., which controls the property.
Those agreements, and projections of more than 10,000 full and part-time jobs once the development is up and running, are a big reason why the stadium has broad support in Inglewood.
"This project will bring prosperity to our city," said Steven Johnson, pastor of business and finance at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood. "It's an economic renaissance."
Johnson was one of dozens of citizens who spoke in favor of the project at a public hearing the night City Council members voted 5-0 to approve the stadium without a public vote. But a handful of opponents spoke up too, saying a development this complex deserved more study.
"I hope you allow the residents of this community to decide this," said resident Diane Sambrano.
Hicks wouldn't say how many signatures the Federation has collected but expressed confidence they would gather enough by the deadline.
When stadium supporters launched the project through an initiative petition in January, they collected more than 22,000 signatures in about three weeks.
Petitions began circulating Thursday in Carson in support of a ballot initiative that changes city zoning for the stadium that is supported by several unions.
"We're not taking a position in regard to supporting one stadium over the other," Hicks said. "We're looking for good jobs."