Labor, business and community groups team-up to urge passage of historic construction initiative
Over 100 workers, activists and clergy gathered on the 21st, with many testifying, before the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). In the midst of this showing, and after hearing a broad range of testimony, the CRA Board of Commissioners approved the landmark “Construction Careers and Project Stabilization Policy.” The policy will require certain CRA-funded projects, meeting specific financial thresholds, to hire more local and “low income” residents from the communities in which the project is being built. In addition, the policy includes a Project Labor Agreement that will encourage partnership between CRA-subsidized developers and contractors and the Building Trades Council.
“All too often the benefits of public subsidies to our city’s commercial construction industry have escaped the very communities they’ve been targeted to revitalize. It goes without saying that such communities tend to be underserved and low income. This policy will provide a pragmatic process that will ensure that more of the good, middle class construction careers created by those subsidies do what they are supposed to do…stay in, benefit, and serve our communities best interests,” said Dr. Lewis Logan, Sr. Pastor, Bethel AME Church.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year in Los Angeles’ commercial construction industry. However, according to supporters of the policy, certain underserved communities see very little growth or financial yield from this investment – and their local residents have rarely benefited from the jobs accompanying the projects. This is typical despite the fact that, in many cases, commercial projects in the city are subsidized by public funds and the industry itself faces looming labor shortages. The Los Angeles CRA designed the “Construction Career and Project Stabilization” Policy as an answer to these historic trends.
“Based on this vote, the CRA Commissioners have shown they recognize that this industry – a vital engine for the future of our regional economy – must be a source of both good, middle class careers and growth for the communities CRA is charged to serve,” explained Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
In advance of today’s meeting, the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education released "Helping L.A. Grow Together: Why the Community Redevelopment Agency Should Adopt the Construction Careers Policy." The report, delivered to each CRA Commissioner, evaluates the Construction Careers Policy and focuses particularly on the necessity of having a Project Labor Agreement serve as the main vehicle for ensuring the success of the policy’s Local Hire Program. Typically, Project Labor Agreements are project-specific agreements whereby developers agree to hire primarily through Building Trade Council union hiring halls in exchange for labor peace. Here, the “Construction Careers and Project Stabilization Policy” would establish a template agreement for CRA-subsidized projects that meet certain financial criteria.
Kent Wong, Executive Director at the UCLA Labor Center, elaborated: “Our research shows, quite simply, that unions are more successful at recruiting, training and graduating individuals from low-income communities, people of color and women than non-union contractors. Therefore, we’ve concluded – and we were anxious to share this with the Board – that in order to realistically implement a local hiring policy that successfully pulls those folks and the communities targeted by the CRA, into this industry, this policy needs to be carried out through a project labor agreement.”
The Board also heard from actual workers who have transformed their lives and built thriving careers through construction union apprenticeship programs. John Harriel, a 38-year old union electrician, faced enormous challenges growing up in South Los Angeles – and ended up serving a lengthy prison term. Now, Harriel is a foreman supervising a crew of 13 workers: “This work is exciting and rewarding because it positively impacts lives. I’m well-trained, well-paid and happy with how I’m able to contribute to my community.”
Richard Slawson, Executive Director of the LA/OC Building and Construction Trades Council added after the hearing, “This policy is good for the construction industry, good for workers, and good for the community.”