Community Benefits on the Horizon in New Orleans

July 15, 2013 -- Partnership for Working Families

As New Orleans continues to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, a diverse array of community and worker organizations are coming together to ensure that continued development in the city brings good jobs and community benefits to New Orleans. 

The Partnership for Working Families joined allies from Cornell University, the national Building Trades Department, AFL-CIO, and more than 20 local community and labor organizations in New Orleans in June to discuss how community benefits organizing could transform the city. Supported by Emerald Cities Collaborative, our team, including Partnership Deputy Director Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel, Cornell University’s Jeff Grabelsky, and the AFL-CIO's Art Lujan emphasized the quality and high-road models of construction contracting that are needed to create good jobs and strengthen New Orleans’ economy.

The first wave of construction post-Hurricane Katrina has not provided the significant new job and career opportunities required for economic and structural recovery. But, the city now faces a profound set of opportunities to transform its urban landscape, reduce poverty, and create new access to the middle class while engaging in a construction boom that will reshape the city. More than $23.5 billion in publicly funded construction is being planned for the coming five years. This construction includes a wide array of projects that on their own can have a transformative impact on the city: new or rehabilitated hospitals, significant investments in the transit and transportation systems, public housing and related development, and improvements to the levee system, among other things.

The construction on the horizon promises not only to create a massive demand for construction workers, but also new jobs in service and retail sectors. Public and private investments together have the potential to reshape the urban landscape for better or worse. Community, union, neighborhood, and civil rights leaders who participated in the June convening want to work together to ensure that this construction boom will benefit low-income neighborhoods and create better jobs, healthier air and water, and safer and more beautiful places to live. 

Many groups have already taken significant steps toward achieving community benefits in New Orleans. A push led by Stand with Dignity/New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice won a community workforce agreement for all public housing construction overseen by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) in spring 2012. A strong coalition in New Orleans could strengthen the efforts of all those deeply invested in improving access to quality jobs in the region and provide a unique opportunity for future collaboration.