LAANE and Its Allies Celebrate Community Redevelopment Agency's Passage of Trail-Blazing Construction Policy

February 19, 2008 -- Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy

On Thursday, February 21, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) joined the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and its allies in rallying over 100 workers, activists and clergy at a meeting of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). After hearing a broad range of testimony, the CRA Board of Commissioners approved the landmark Construction Careers and Project Stabilization Policy. This policy requires CRA-subsidized projects to hire more local and “at risk” residents from the communities in which the projects are built, while also standardizing a Project Labor Agreement to ensure that more of the jobs on those projects lead to middle-class, union careers.

“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 that the CRA is charged to serve,” explained Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and chair of LAANE’s Board of Directors.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year in Los Angeles’ commercial construction industry. However, underserved communities historically see very little value from this investment – and their residents rarely benefit from the jobs accompanying the projects. “Much too often, the benefits of public construction subsidies are never felt by the communities they’re intended to revitalize,” said LAANE Policy Analyst, Flor Barajas-Tena. “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.”

In an effort to reverse these historic trends, LAANE worked extensively with CRA staff to develop the Construction Career and Project Stabilization Policy, and helped to develop broad-based community support to ensure its approval.

In advance of the 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 evaluates the policy, while focusing particularly on the necessity of a Project Labor Agreement to ensure 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.

“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,” said Kent Wong, Executive Director of the UCLA Labor Center. “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.  “When I came into the union, I had no prior knowledge of construction or what the ironworking trade was,” said Eric Robinson, an apprentice ironworker. “Now I’ve been in it for a year and a half and I’m a licensed and certified welder…because the union took me on.  At the same time, I am also helping to redevelop my neighborhood by taking my paycheck and spending the dollars in the community.”  According to the Commissioners, the testimony of Robinson and other workers had a particularly strong impact on their decision.

The next step for the policy is a likely hearing before the Los Angeles City Council’s Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee. Then the policy must be approved by the full City Council.  A vote is expected by early to mid-April.

While LAANE’s Executive Director, Madeline Janis, is a member of the CRA board, she recused herself from the vote due to the important work by LAANE staff on the policy.

We look forward to keeping you updated on the policy’s progress.

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