Pop-ing off 

Accusations were flying like slop in a mud-wrestling match at City Hall last Friday. This time it was corporate behemoth Pepsi Co. that got splattered.

The show at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center was complete with melodramatic posturing for the television cameras, on this particular day by the wakened giant, City Council member Barbara-Rose Collins.

The furor of the moment bubbles down to something like this: In 1989 the City Council granted Pepsi a 12-year, $6 million tax break for the pop peddler to consolidate its Warren, Dearborn and Detroit operations into one large bottling plant at 1555 Mack Ave., in the Forest Park community. Now, 15 years later, residents of the community and, more pointedly, the Paul Robeson/Forest Park Temporary Employment Service, are up in arms, and have petitioned City Council to take their case.

Why the upset? Seems corporate reps made verbal assurances back in 1989 to City Council that the plant “intended” to give preferential treatment to neighborhood residents when jobs came available. That’s what council members are saying, anyhow. Problem is, said promises never found their way to paper.

Since then, the Pepsi plant has hired a total of nine folks from Forest Park and no longer makes good use of the Paul Robeson temp service, cutting hires from that nonprofit organization by 50 percent in favor of Kelly Services, according to Cicero Love III, president of the Robeson temp service as well as the Forest Park Development Corp. It was Love who brought the matter to council’s attention.

Now, kids, there’s a lesson to be learned in all this for the next time you’re cutting a deal with a corporation. If you dole out a $6 million tax break, and you want something in return, something like, say, 100 jobs for the local community (that’s what council members say they remember Pepsi promising) or some commitment for a local employment agency — get it in writing.

Love claimed at the council table that Pepsi has caused “irreparable harm” and is “insensitive to our claims.” “We have been hurt and damaged by the Pepsi Co. for 14 years,” Cicero said in asking the city to join him in a lawsuit against the company. “What we really need to unify us is a common foe,” says Love, who claims that Pepsi has been carrying out a “campaign of terror” against the community.

Joining private parties in suits against private parties isn’t the business of City Council, the body declared. But Councilwoman Collins had this impassioned comment:

“When we help corporate America make billions of dollars off our resources and dollars with tax breaks, and they come in here and make promises and every day they renege on them, they do not hire the people they say they’re going to hire.

“They have the attitude that we’re a bunch of nincompoops sitting around the table,” Collins added. (The statement was followed by nods and fervent utterances of “yes, yes” around the table.)

The Detroit Pepsi facility employs 452 people, 105 of whom are Detroiters, and this year paid $1.3 million in city property taxes.

The pop-maker did, however, offer to sweeten the deal, saying it would do such things as establish a paid apprenticeship program that would train five people a year from the local community, and fund five $10,000 scholarships for local students.

Collins, saying Pepsi’s response lacked heft, responded by asking, “Where’s the beef?”

Wherever that haunch is, it sounds like there’s not much chance she’s going to wash it down with a Pepsi if she finds it.

The matter, evidently, is worth another taste. The council is set to revisit the issue in January.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact this column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com

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