Priority Hire plan aims to secure jobs for local communities

Jacky Graham December 1, 2014 0
Worker Sylvia Sabon benefited from a community hiring agreement on Sound Transit and she's working with Got Green to get Priority Hiring passed. • Photo by Inye Wokoma, Ijo Media Arts

Worker Sylvia Sabon benefited from a community hiring agreement on Sound Transit and she’s working with Got Green to get Priority Hiring passed. • Photo by Inye Wokoma, Ijo Media Arts

On December 4, Seattle City Council members will discuss Priority Hire, a plan to help secure construction jobs in Seattle for local communities.

Previously introduced as the “Targeted Local Hire Effort,” Priority Hire  is a proposal to insource jobs for publicly financed construction projects in Seattle. The plan will require that a percentage of the jobs go to workers from areas that have encountered poverty and issues with employment.

According to City Council Member Sally Clark, about 70 percent of the workforce is outsourced from areas that are beyond the Seattle area and only six percent of workers of a typical city project live in the city.

“If the bill goes all the way through, we are hoping to achieve that some percentage of trade workers would be people who come from areas where folks have not had great access to these jobs in the past,” Clark said.

Clark serves on various committees, including Human Services and Economic Resiliency and Select Committee on the Minimum Wage and Income Inequality. She says she has kept economic development as part of all committees she has chaired during the past few years.

“The fact is we got plenty of people who are unemployed or underemployed in our city who need access to these jobs,” Clark said. “It’s a failing in our part that we haven’t been able to figure out the education and skills training so that folks can get a grip on the wage ladder.”

In addition to Clark’s support, around 43 organizations in the Seattle area have been involved with the Priority Hire effort, including Got Green, an organization that focuses on public policy advocacy and community-organized efforts for low-income communities of color in Seattle.

“We learned that the city did not have any contractual language to have contractors hire from diverse communities,” said Michael Woo, the founder of and green jobs organizer at Got Green.

According to Woo, green jobs are jobs that are essentially good for the environment, such as focusing on sustainable development and tackling pollution. The other aspect of it also leads to a living wage career, which creates employment opportunities.

“Our argument in the green aspect is included in why our city is doing it,” said Woo. “You have to do it strategically—that’s why some of our partners such as the Sierra Club see how legislation can benefit climate change as well.”

Local hire activists hold a petition at City Hall in May 2014. From right to left: Vernon Hill, Murphy Stack, and Hien Nguyen. • Photo by Sam Smith

Local hire activists hold a petition at City Hall in May 2014. From right to left: Vernon Hill, Murphy Stack, and Hien Nguyen. • Photo by Sam Smith

In November 2010, Got Green provided a contractor with the names of 60 individuals who were skilled union members or apprentices to work on rebuilding the Rainier Beach Community Center pool. None of the people on the list received a call, according to Woo.

“There has been little success in having people hired for jobs in their community that are publicly funded, even with providing names of skilled workers,” Woo said. “We decided to focus on the efforts of the city itself.”

Cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Cleveland have already implemented the local hire movement and found success. People from San Francisco and Los Angeles were invited to speak to the City Council about efforts on local hires.

“We heard that,” Clark said, “and the advisory committee for construction careers gave us their final report in July this year.”

Based on those reports, Clark and other council members worked with the mayor’s office, which resulted in the mayor forwarding a council bill in September to allow the legislative body to preview the draft.

An issue they considered is defining a community for insource jobs. One idea was to look at zip codes to determine which local communities face problems of high unemployment and poverty in the Seattle area.

“You can look at zip codes and look where there is a lot of unemployment,” Clark said, “and looking at the percentage of folks who would need work and help those people get into the apprenticeships for these jobs.”

“Every contractor will be required to hire a certain percentage of the work force from disadvantaged communities,” Woo said. “It is a way of generating jobs for people in our neighborhoods who need good wage careers.”

After the committee discussion on December 4, changes could be made to the draft bill and a vote is expected in January.

“We think we are winning the support of five or six members and we only need five votes to pass and already have so much support, so we are real confident in passing the bill,” said Woo.

Clark said, overall, Priority Hire is an opportunity to help bring jobs to the people of Seattle who need it the most.

“This is a broader context of how to help people be able to afford to build great lives in and around Seattle,” Clark said. “We got folks who feel they are perpetually out of the great jobs market, and city government can help change all that.”

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