COMMENTARY: Hire local workers on City of Seattle public works projects now

Michael Woo

By Michael Woo, Got Green

Jobs that should be given to Seattle residents are being given to others. The City of Seattle spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on public works projects building and repairing city-owned properties, such as streets, parks, community centers, and the like. These projects create thousands of construction jobs, but according to a recent study commissioned by the Seattle City Council, only 6 percent of all workers on Seattle city-funded construction projects were Seattle residents, and a mere 1 percent were Asian Americans. Not only are qualified Seattle construction workers not getting employed on these jobs, those non-Seattle workers are spending their paychecks outside the city.

The City of Seattle can and should address this economic injustice by passing a Target Local Hire Law, which would require contractors to employ a percentage of skilled and qualified workers from communities in Seattle-King County hardest hit by the recent recession. The use of funds on construction and public works projects should not only improve the community’s infrastructure, but should also strengthen our local community by reducing local unemployment and supporting local businesses. Unemployment and the lack of access to living wage jobs remain key challenges for workers living in economically distressed communities. In order to put these communities back to work, we need policies that prioritize lifting local residents out of poverty by giving them access to construction careers.

In turn, this will strengthen the local economy because local workers from economically marginalized communities employed under a Targeted Local Hire policy will likely spend their wages at local businesses. San Francisco enacted a similar law in 2011 that was supported by a board coalition, including the Brightline Defense Project, Inner City Youth, and the Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA). The San Francisco law is expected to inject $177 million into San Francisco’s general fund over 10 years. The law, in just three years, raised the percentage of San Francisco residents hired on their publicly funded construction projects from 10 percent to over 30 percent.

Additionally, targeted local hire allows people to work where they live. This fits in with Seattle’s desire to protect the environment and address climate change. Transportation accounts for 40 percent of Seattle’s climate pollution. The pollution resulting from daily commutes in cars and trucks to Seattle from outside King County also results in increased air pollution, making it harmful for our children and elders to breathe.

Last summer, in front of a packed hearing hall, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to address disparities in City public works construction hiring by a forming committee to recommend policy options, including the Target Local Hire policy.

The committee’s recommendations are now being considered by the mayor and City Council as they draft an ordinance aimed at increasing the percentage of Seattle residents hired on public works projects — prioritizing residents living in zip codes that have a high percentage of unemployed persons living in poverty and without college degrees. That would include Southeast Seattle.

Now is the time to ensure that we pass a law that does not support the status quo. Tell City leaders that we must be bold and implement a law that requires contractors hired with Seattle taxpayer dollars to provide work opportunities to residents of economically struggling neighborhoods in King County.

A Target Local Hire policy is good for our environment, our economy, and our communities. Target Local Hire is a win-win-win!  (end)

For more information contact Got Green at 206-290-5136 or www.gotgreenseattle.org.

One Response to “COMMENTARY: Hire local workers on City of Seattle public works projects now”

  1. CR says:

    Thank you Michael for addressing this issue.

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