Hiring at home

Pub date December 14, 2010
WriterSarah Phelan


The lame duck Board of Supervisors made history Dec. 7 when it voted 8-3 to approve mandatory local hire legislation for city-funded construction projects. The measure ends a decade-long effort to reach 50 percent local hiring goals through good-faith efforts.

“That’s a sea change in our local hiring discussion,” said Sup. John Avalos, who launched the legislation in October as part of the LOCAL-SF (Local Opportunities for Communities and Labor) campaign, which seeks to strengthen local hiring, address high unemployment rates, and boost the local economy.

The veto-proof passage of Avalos’ measure comes in the wake of a city-commissioned study indicating that San Francisco has failed to meet good-faith local hiring goals for public works projects even as unemployment levels rise in the local construction industry and several local neighborhoods face concentrated poverty.

Although Cleveland also has a local-hire law, the Avalos measure will be the strongest in the nation. Avalos’ legislative aide Raquel Redondiez told the Guardian that Cleveland’s 2003 legislation requires 20 percent local hire.

“This legislation doesn’t just have a mandated 50 percent goal,” Avalos explained, noting that San Francisco will require that each trade achieve a mandated rate and that 50 percent of apprentices be residents.

“This will ensure that our tax dollars get recycled back into the local economy, and that San Franciscans who are ready to work are provided the opportunity to do so,” Avalos said.

Avalos’ groundbreaking legislation phases in mandatory requirements that a portion of San Francisco public works jobs go to city residents and includes additional targets for hiring disadvantaged workers.



The legislation replaces the city’s First Source program, under which contractors were required only to make good faith efforts to hire 50 percent local residents on publicly-funded projects. But the measure begins slowly by mandating levels some contractors are already reaching. According to a study commissioned by the city’s Office of Employment and Workforce Development and released in October, 20 percent of work hours on publicly-funded construction projects are going to San Francisco residents.

Avalos’ legislation, which is supported by a broad coalition of labor and community groups including PODER, the Filipino Community Center, Southeast Jobs Coalition, Kwan Wo Ironworks Inc., Rubecon, and Chinese for Affirmative Action, comes at a critical moment for the recession-battered construction industry.

Under the city’s capital plan, more than $25 billion will be spent on public works and other construction projects in the next decade — and two-thirds of this money will be spent over the next five years.

The measure has environmental benefits too. Transportation still accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions generated in the Bay Area than any other source, and San Francisco residents are more likely to take transit, walk, or bike to work than residents of other Bay Area counties. “When local citizens are able to work locally, there are fewer cars on the road and less air pollution,” Avalos said.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi said that Avalos’ legislation is “just a start.”

“People have talked a good game about local hiring,” observed Mirkarimi, whose district includes the high unemployment-affected Western Addition.

“We are going to have to go beyond construction and start thinking about delving into the private sector,” Mirkarimi continued, pointing to the need to build 100,000 housing units over the next 25 years if the city is to keep up with a projected population increase. “Who is going to build that housing?” he asked.

Sup. Eric Mar noted that “the Sierra Club endorsed the measure early on because of the environmental benefits of having people work close to where they live.”

Sup. David Campos, whose district includes the Mission, said the measure was one of the most significant pieces of legislation to emerge from the board in recent years. “In the past, a lot of obstacles got in the way, including some legal challenges,” said Campos, who credited Avalos for navigating a complicated legal structure. “At the end of the day, I think this is going to benefit everyone.”

Mike Theriault, secretary-treasurer for the San Francisco Building Trades Council, told the Guardian he remains opposed to the legislation because the union presers to allocate jobs based on seniority, not residency. But he said the amendments make the measure “less harmful and more survivable in the short-term.”



Termed-out Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents the city’s economically distressed southeast sector, has often noted that the construction industry provides a path to the middle class for people without advanced degrees or facing barriers to employment. She thanked Avalos for pushing legislation that promises to provides opportunities for “growing the middle class instead of importing it.”

“This industry closes the economic gap,” she said.

Board President David Chiu and termed-out Sups. Chris Daly and Bevan Dufty also supported Avalos legislation. But Dufty, who is running in the 2011 mayoral race, cast the eighth vote, which gave the measure a veto-proof majority.

The board’s Dec. 7 vote came a few hours after Bayview-based Aboriginal Blacks United founder James Richards and a score of unemployed local residents rallied at City Hall in the hopes of securing Dufty’s vote.

ABU has recently been protesting at UCSF’s Mission Bay hospital buildings site on 16th and Third streets. Its members also triggered a shut down at the Sunset Reservoir last month after a court ruled that locals promised jobs installing solar panels at the plant be replaced by higher-skilled engineers,

“It’s been too long that we have been protesting and fighting this good faith effort,” Richards told the Guardian. “We need a mandatory policy.”

Dufty is also hoping the Avalos measure could spread to other cities and benefit workers nationwide. “At a certain point I looked at labor and said, ‘Yes, I’m going for this legislation. But not just for San Francisco — you want to take this concept to other cities,’ ” Dufty said, as he made good on his promise to Richards to vote to support Avalos’ law.

Dufty seemed hopeful that Mayor Gavin Newsom would get behind the legislation. “But I respect that there may be a little bit of coming together between now and the second reading.”

Newsom spokesman Tony Winniker told the Guardian that the mayor has 10 days to review Avalos’ legislation after its Dec. 14 second reading. “He supports stronger local hire requirements but does want to review the many amendments that were added before deciding,” Winnicker said.

But will Newsom, who is scheduled to be sworn in as California’s next lieutenant governor Jan. 3, issue a veto on or before Christmas Eve on legislation that has been amended to address the stated concerns of the building trades?

That would be ironic since the amended legislation appears to match recommendations that the Mayor’s Taskforce on African American Outmigration published in 2009. The California Department of Finance projected that San Francisco’s black population would continue to decline from 6.5 percent (according to 2005 census data) to 4.6 percent of the city’s total population by 2050 — in part because of a lack of good jobs.



Avalos originally proposed to start at 30 percent and reach 50 percent over three years. But after the building trades complained that these levels were unworkable, Avalos amended the legislation to require an initial mandatory participation level of 20 percent of all project work-hours within each trade performed by local residents, with no less than 10 percent of all project work-hours within each trade to be performed by disadvantaged workers.

He also amended his legislation to require that this mandatory level be increased annually over seven years in 5 percent increments up to 50 percent, with no less than 25 percent within each trade to be performed by disadvantaged workers in the legislation’s sixth year.

A Dec. 1 report from city economist Ted Egan estimated that the local hire legislation would create 350 jobs and cost the city $9 million annually. But Egan clarified for the Guardian that this cost equals only 1 percent of the city’s spending on public works in any given year.

Vincent Pan of Chinese Affirmative Action, which supports Avalos’ local hiring policy, suggested that the mayor “check the temperature.”

“It would be leadership on the part of the mayor not to veto legislation that’s about San Francisco,” Pan said.

And Mindy Kener, an organizing member of the Southeast Jobs Coalition breathed a deep sigh of relief when Dufty’s vote made the law veto-proof. “It’s gonna go across the country,” Kener said. “We just made history.”