South Seattle coalition holds forum demanding equity in construction jobs

By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly

The forum attracted over 120 participants, filling the Southside Commons Auditorium. (Photo by Charles Lam/NWAW)

When it comes to jobs, South Seattle is left out, according to GotGreen and the Construction Jobs Equity Association, a South Seattle coalition of  community organizations.

In 2011, construction began on a new $25 million Rainier Beach Community Center, which will serve one of the most diverse zip codes in the United States. However, despite a mandate from the City of Seattle that the contractor employ a staff of at least 20 percent minority and women workers and a list of local candidates looking for employment, not a single job on the project went to a person in South Seattle.

On Saturday, March 23, GotGreen and the CJEC hosted a forum to discuss the need for a “Targeted Local Hire” ordinance that would fix this problem. The ordinance, which is based on ordinances in effect in San Francisco, Calif. and Cleveland, Ohio, would require contractors working on publicly funded projects to hire a minimum number of workers from local communities. The San Francisco ordinance, which took effect March 2011, has increased the number of local apprentices and workers and is projected to add $177 million to the city’s general fund due to increased local wages.

“If we are successful in our campaign, by the end of the year, the Seattle City Council will have passed a new ordinance for Local Hire on all public works funded with city money,” said Michael Woo, GotGreen executive director. “Our communities of color here in the Rainier Valley suffer an unemployment rate more than double the city’s as a whole. A Local Hire ordinance will make a big dent in this problem by giving our communities a chunk of the 3,000 living wage construction jobs created with city dollars each year.”

The event, which attracted over 100 attendees, including City Councilmembers Nick Licata and Mike O’Brien, as well as representatives from the offices of City Council President Sally Clark and Mayor Mike McGinn, featured community panel discussions and testimonials from community members.

Public works jobs are projected to blossom in the next few years, as the city plans to develop the Seattle SoDo arena, the Elliot Bay Seawall, Yesler Terrace, and other projects. With the development of city projects and investments of city funds comes thousands of local living-wage jobs, according to GotGreen.

“A community will only be strong if its families are strong and stable,” said Vu Le, the executive director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association, which is a member of the CJEC. “Hiring locally, with living wages, will allow families to remain in the area and thrive, which is good for all of us.”

Similar requirements have worked in Seattle before. An agreement with contractors at Sound Transit saw an increase in hiring women and minority workers.

“Ten years ago, I was part of an effort to win a contract that made those companies building Sound Transit hire women and people of color,” said Sylvia Sabon, an office clerk, receptionist, and single mother. “That’s how I got in the door … The Sound Transit agreement was intended to create construction jobs for the community. I am not a construction worker, but my employment with a Sound Transit contractor shows that publicly funded projects can produce good jobs for workers with other skills in our community as well.”

Hope is high that a similar solution can work again in Seattle. (end)

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