Administration: Jobs policy takes a city

October 24, 2009
By

David Taber

Web Exclusive

The Boston Residents Job Policy is a fairly straightforward sounding statute, and consistent failure by the current mayoral administration to meet those goals has provided fodder for a number of candidates this campaign season.

In public statements, mayoral candidate Mike Flaherty and his unofficial running mate, former mayoral candidate Sam Yoon, have called for stricter enforcement of the policy. And at-large City Council candidate Tito Jackson disparaged the city’s record on the policy, calling it “bull” in a recent Gazette interview.

At as September mayoral candidates forum at English High School, Yoon said the city should simply tell contractors to “hire them [local workers] or else.”

The policy calls for 25 percent of covered city-funded construction jobs and construction jobs on projects over 100,000 square feet to go to city residents, 25 percent to minorities and 10 percent to women. But that is no walk in the park, said Brooke Woodson, director of the Boston Employment Commission, the body charged with monitoring compliance the policy, recently told the Gazette.

Supply-and-demand issues and federal court rulings discouraging quota systems make strict enforcement of the policy difficult, he said. Mayor Thomas Menino has also cited concerns about provoking a lawsuit as a key reason the city is not stricter in its enforcement. A large part of the city’s strategy to meet the policy goals involves working with neighborhood advocacy groups and non-profits focused on job training, he said.

The city has never met the goals of the 1982 law. And, as the Boston Globe recently reported, the percentages of residents, minorities and women working in jobs covered by the rules have all shrunk in the 16 years Menino has been in office.

Woodson told the Gazette that the city believes a 1984 Supreme Court case, the United Building and Construction Trades Council of Camden County vs. Mayor and Council of Camden prohibits municipalities from barring out-of-towners from employment.

Other federal court cases brought against Lowell and Worcester also suggest strict enforcement might not fare well id challenges in court, he said.

“You can have aspirational goals,” he said, but not “attempt to penalize contractors or developers.” And the city does have some leverage in convincing developers to stick to the required “good faith” efforts to employ crews that reflect the policy. In the case of publicly funded projects, it cannot award the funding, and adherence can be part of community mitigation in Boston Redevelopment Authority agreements with large-project developers.

Richard Thal, head of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) a major non-profit JP developer, told the Gazette “reporting on [policy compliance] has always been required. It has ebbed and flowed how much the city has been able to follow up….I think putting priority and emphasis on its importance is a worthwhile thing to do In cases where [the city cracks] down it gets results,” he said.

Thal told the Gazette that Jackson Square Partners (JSP)—a group of non- and for-profit developers, including JPNDC, currently involved in a major neighborhood redevelopment project in Jackson Square that is utilizing public funds—is committed to following the policy. The JPNDC is meeting the goals of the policy in its work on two current development projects at the site of the former Blessed Sacrament Church in Hyde Square and at the intersection of Centre, Wise and Lamartine Streets in Jackson Square, he said.

The non-profit also recently made construction-trade job training a major focus of job training programs it runs, Thal said.

Support from community advocacy groups and commitments from private developers have always played a role in the city’s efforts to meet the jobs policy goals, Woodson said. He said the city is also starting to focus more on training programs, and is beginning to forge stronger ties with city non-profits in that effort.

Policy adherence “starts at the top,” Woodson said, talking about jobs policy-friendly developers, including non-profit community development corporations (CDCs). He also said policy enforcement efforts have benefited from strong street-level advocacy. “Any group that’s interested, we try to stay in touch with. It works best with the involvement of the community,” he said.

Speaking to the Gazette, Jackson said his late father, Herbert Kwaku Zulu Jackson, led the Greater Roxbury Workers Council and had been an ardent jobs policy advocate.

Jackson’s father “would walk on job sites and ask them ‘how many women, how many people of color, do you have on your site?’…His life was threatened several times…Since he passed we have lost ground,” Jackson said.

Woodson recalled Jackson’s father fondly. “We worked very closely with Kwaku for a number of years before he passed away,” he said, noting that the council and another advocacy group, Women in the Building Trades, are now essentially defunct. “Any group that is interested, we try to stay in touch the best we can,” he said.

Jackson expressed hopes that he could develop a strong grassroots base to support and guide his work if he is elected.

“When it comes down to it, if I had to walk on a job site and shut it down, I would do it,” he said.

Flaherty did not return Gazette phone calls for this article but a policy paper on economic development on his web site indicates he favors a stronger effort to tie city-controlled development funding to the policy, particularly for projects funded with city-administered funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“As a strong proponent of [the jobs policy], Michael has repeatedly called for better compliance rates and during this current year, cosponsored a measure calling for tougher monitoring to ensure that the jobs emerging from stimulus-funded projects were given to local residents. Michael ardently believes that the long-term impact of federal recovery funds will only go so far if we aren’t putting our own residents to work,” the paper, available at www.michaelflaherty.com, says.

Before Yoon was knocked out of the mayoral race, he publicly suggested the city should strictly enforce the policy and, if challenged, vigorously defend it in court. It is not clear what Flaherty thinks about that strategy.

Woodson said there have not been any city-funded federal stimulus projects so far, but there are some coming down the pike. “When those projects do move forward, we will be there,” he said. They will “definitely” meet the goals of the policy, he said.

The 1984 case was decided long before Menino office in 1993, so that does not explain a drop in the percentage of Boston residents employed on sites covered by the statute from around 44 percent to 32 percent during the mayor’s tenure. But Woodson said the main issue there is there has been a lot more work to do.

In 1994, covered construction projects overall provided 1.8 million hours of work. In 2007, they offer 3.5 million, he said.

At the same time, “There has not been a [parallel] increase in the number of workers,” Woodson said.

While he did not have jobs policy numbers immediately available for 2008 or 2009 Woodson said he expects to see the percentages “creep up a little bit” because of the drop-off in new construction in the recession.

He also said the city is starting to shift its focus toward getting more people trained in the building trades. “He building trades themselves are older. Young people are not as exposed to the building trades as they were in the 1940s and 1950s. We are trying to find ways to target, people—urban youths are a prime population—and train them for jobs of the future,” he said.

Most City Council candidates have come out in explicit support of similar policies. Incumbent at large City Council candidate Steve Murphy has spoken out a number of times on the campaign trail about construction-related job training, saying the Boston Public Schools should do more to support vocational training. Incumbent candidate John Connolly has proposed starting a green technology-focused high school that would offer a focus on green building.

Woodson said the city’s plans include working more with non-profits like YouthBuild Boston, a group that trains urban youths on green building techniques, he said.

The JPNDC recently began focusing on construction-related job training programs, as well, JPNDC director Richard Thal told the Gazette.

“Ever since the founding of the JPNDC, we have been involved in different efforts to create economic opportunities,” Thal said. Until recently, those efforts were focused largely on healthcare job training programs. The JPNDC was a lead organization in developing and running the Healthcare Ladders program, a state funded program that became a national model for healthcare job training programs, he said.

But running that program, which accepts students from all over the city and sets them up with job placements most often in the Longwood Medical Area, was “a couple of steps removed” from JPNDC’s core mandate of serving Jamaica Plain. The JPNDC handed the program off to others in 2007.

The CDC is instead decided to focus on “projects we control. We decided we ought to be putting good energy into stuff in our backyard,” Thal said.

Since the JPNDC is a developer, construction work was the logical choice, he said, but training and placement in the construction field “presents its own challenges.”

As a developer, the JPNDC is working with hundreds of contractors and sub-contractors on its different projects, Thal said. While it can require those companies to follow the policy, they have discretion over who they hire, and often have rosters of employees that they work with. Building trade unions add another layer to the mix, as the contractors will often go through various union locals to try to meet the policy goals.

In the context of all that, JPNDC, and Urban Edge, another CDC involved in the Jackson Square project, are trying to promote local hiring as well, Thal said, but it is tricky needle to thread.

“The next step for us is to try to quantify what is a real number” of local hires they can shoot for, Thal said. “I don’t want to give folks the unrealistic impression that we have jobs to give away,” he said.