Constructing Buildings & Building Careers

November 2010
The Partnership for Working Families

This report documents how three local government units in Los Angeles have created new pathways to construction careers on publicly funded construction projects. These entities have used community workforce agreements to create thousands of new career opportunities for residents of low-income neighborhoods and disadvantaged workers. Together, the community workforce agreements they have established cover over $26 billion in construction and have created over 30,000 job opportunities for residents of low income neighborhoods.

Executive Summary: 

Strategies to get low-income job seekers, women and workers of color into construction careers have long been a focal point for workforce development experts and community-based organizations. More recently, renewed attention to these strategies has come from several directions. In response to the worst recession since the 1930s, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which authorized billions of dollars in spending for infrastructure construction and improvement. The elected representatives of poor urban neighborhoods, as well as union and community leaders tied to those areas, have expressed great desire that this spending should generate career opportunities for workers of color. The imperative of developing a comprehensive response to looming climate change has created new excitement about the potential for new career opportunities for poor people and workers of color in green construction and retrofit jobs. Lastly, local governments and their allies in community and union organizations have pioneered new approaches to creating real construction career paths for lowincome job seekers and workers of color. Excitement over the construction careers model has brought new questions and new levels of scrutiny about how these programs actually work.

This report documents the process by which three local government units in Los Angeles -- the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Los Angeles Community College District -- have created new pathways to construction careers on infrastructure improvement and construction projects that they fund. These entities have used community workforce agreements to create thousands of new career opportunities for residents of low-income neighborhoods and disadvantaged jobseekers. Together, the community workforce agreements they have established cover over $26 billion in construction. The oldest of these agreements date back to 2001, and in total they have created over 30,000 job opportunities for residents of low-income neighborhoods.

The case studies in this report show that effective implementation of community workforce agreements creates career opportunities for low-income workers. Community workforce agreements consist of negotiated, legally binding agreements signed by the project owner/end-user -- in this case a local government unit -- the building and construction trades council (representing building trades unions) and the general contractor. The provisions, which are binding across sub-contractors, include strong job quality protections that ensure workplace safety; provide for conflict and dispute resolution; establish the wage, benefits and training access for workers on the job; and outline the hiring practices that will be used to create comprehensive access to a qualified workforce. As part of those hiring practices, all parties agree on a set of hiring targets that establish new pathways into construction careers for targeted workers.

Strategies for getting new workers into construction careers use a variety of tools. Typically, these agreements either identify a targeted employment category, defined as workers that reside in neighborhoods adjacent to new projects, or target areas with high unemployment rates. Contractors are required to demonstrate efforts to hire targeted workers for some percentage of total work hours, ranging from 30 - 40%. Those work hours can be filled by journey-level workers who have already found their way into a construction trade, but some hours should also be filled by apprentices. Requirements may further emphasize hiring at-risk workers (those who otherwise may fall out of the workforce) or ask contractors to show they are bringing first-year apprentices, who are more likely to be new workers in the construction field, onto the job site.

These requirements are only as effective as the implementation and monitoring efforts that accompany them. The three detailed case studies in this report explore how agreements were implemented, how the implementation process gave rise to new career opportunities for local and at-risk hires, and the utilization of apprentices. The case studies draw on outcomes documented through certified payroll records, independent consultants' analyses and interviews with program staff.

Programs covered in this report include:

  • The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Project Stabilization Agreement, negotiated in 2003 for a $20 billion project including construction of new schools as well as repairs, additions, and modernization to existing schools. The agreement requires 50% of construction positions be filled by local residents that reside within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Up to 30% of a LAUSD contractor's workforce may be apprentices, unless the state establishes a lower maximum percentage. Of these apprentices, 40% must be first year apprentices.
  • The Los Angeles Community College (LACCD) Project Labor Agreement, negotiated in 2001, for a $6 billion project to rebuild and renovate eight community college campuses. The agreement requires 30% of all construction positions be filled by local residents that reside within the zip-code of a particular campus or the district as a whole. Additionally 20% of all local hires must qualify as at-risk workers.
  • Six agreements negotiated to cover infrastructure investments made by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works (LA DPW), beginning in 2006. The total value of these construction projects exceeds $500 million, and includes the construction of new police stations, a jail, a detention center, a fire station, a sewer system and a traffic surveillance system. The agreements require that 30% of the work be done by residents of adjacent neighborhoods. One agreement sets an even higher standard of 40%, and all agreements also identify and establish hiring goals for at-risk workers.


  1. Community workforce agreements that combine targeted hire goals with a project labor agreement put a significant number of low-income local residents to work. Local governments set ambitious targets for hiring workers from low-income neighborhoods onto publicly-funded construction projects, and for the most part they succeeded. Local workers made up more than 30% of the workforce on LAUSD and LACCD projects. Just below the established goal, local workers made up 26% of the workforce on LA DPW projects. However, the percentage of hours worked by local workers exceeds the established goal.
  2. Community workforce agreements created a significant number of new construction career opportunities. By encouraging the trades and contractors to maximize use of apprentices, these agreements created thousands of new construction careers. 31% of the workforce on LAUSD projects were apprentices and 18% of the workforce on LA DPW projects were apprentices. A significant percentage of these apprentice slots were filled by first year apprentices, indicating that these workers were embarking on a new career path and in some cases working on their first job.
  3. These agreements have a proven track record of retaining local workers. The percentage of local workers was about the same as the percentage of hours worked by local workers on LAUSD and LA DPW projects. Local workers account for about the same percentage of local employees and hours worked on LAUSD and LA DPW projects. LAUSD local hires account for 38% of the total workforce and they have also completed 41% of the hours worked on LAUSD projects. Likewise local workers made up 26% of the workforce and have completed 32% of the hours worked on LA DPW projects. This data indicates local workers were not only being hired, but that they were also being retained.
  4. These agreements lifted up wages for new workers, creating middle-class career paths. The average hourly wage for local workers on LAUSD projects was $29.58. These jobs pay family sustaining wages, provide benefits, and access to a career.
  5. Community workforce agreements have the potential to alleviate poverty. The LA DPW agreements indentified targeted zip-codes from which union hiring halls were supposed to refer workers from first. By prioritizing zip-codes that experience high levels of unemployment and poverty, these agreements delivered quality jobs to the neighborhoods that needed them the most. On LA DPW projects workers from targeted zip-codes completed 49% of the hours worked by local residents.
  6. Getting to these outcomes tended to involve outreach, recruitment and orientation conducted by a strong pre-apprenticeship program. LAUSD's We Build and PV Jobs pre-apprenticeship programs have helped contractors recruit and hire local and at-risk workers. Both of these programs recruit local residents, people of color, women and low income people and help prepare them for union apprenticeship positions. Graduates of these programs are highly competitive candidates for union apprenticeship positions, having completed safety, basic skill training and the minimum education requirements. The We Build program has placed 496 local workers with construction trades on LAUSD projects and PV Jobs have placed 601 workers on LACCD projects.
  7. A clear and transparent system for monitoring local hire outcomes is key to successful implementation of community workforce agreements that include targeted hire outcomes in a project labor agreement. LAUSD and LA DPW both created a concrete system for monitoring and reporting local hire outcomes. Each project generates regular reports on local hire outcomes based on certified payroll records. These projects also have proven track records of moving local residents into construction jobs and utilizing apprentices. All stakeholders have a stronger commitment and sense of responsibility to achieve the requirements of the agreement when a system for monitoring implementation is established.

    These programs showed strong progress toward establishing and refining systems that helped move low-income people into middle-class construction careers. But more work is needed to help evolve the pathway for workers at risk of falling out of the workforce altogether.

  8. Programs made limited but important progress in drawing at-risk workers into construction careers. Data on at-risk hires was only available for the LACCD projects. At-risk hires make up 9% of the local workforce on LACCD projects, and 2.9% of the total workforce. Though this number is low, it nonetheless represents a significant effort to serve workers with real barriers to success -- lack of education credentials, a record of incarceration or other involvement with the criminal justice system, recent receipt of public assistance and the like. Focusing efforts on addressing those barriers, and getting at-risk workers connected to the highquality training and career pathway offered by a good construction job may yield more limited numbers but real progress in moving people from poverty into the middle class.

    Across the country, local governments are developing innovative strategies for using their construction and infrastructure investment budgets to leverage more gains for poor people. Among those strategies are community workforce agreements, which ensure that some of the middle-class job opportunities created by taxpayer investment are funneled back to poor communities that are less likely to have reaped past gains. Progressive social justice leaders, union leaders, elected officials and workforce development experts have all sought evidence that these strategies can in fact serve to create more equitable economies and lift up poor communities. The experiences elaborated in this report help make the case that, in fact, they do.