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Contra Costa Times

Posted April 13, 2010

Cities to contractors: Hire more local people

By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times

Some cities in Contra Costa County are considering ways to force more local hiring amid rising unemployment.

Richmond, one of the few jurisdictions with a local hiring policy, is beefing up its rules and upping by 5 percentage points the mandate for hiring locally. Under the city's revised law, 25 percent of work hours on a $100,000-plus construction contract with the city must be performed by residents. The target is 35 percent for other public work, such as office and security positions.

"We need the economy to improve, and we need businesses to come to Richmond to create jobs, jobs, jobs so we can actually make these goals happen," Councilwoman Ludmyrna Lopez said.

Unemployment in the city is at 18.7

POLL Should city contracts mandate that local workers be hired? percent, according to state records. That's not as bad as the rates in communities such as Crockett and Bay Point, which top 20 percent, but it still exceeds the county average of 11.7 percent.

Other cities are considering developing local hiring policies. Concord, with 12.7 percent unemployment, is raising the issue as it plans the future of its Naval Weapons Station. In San Pablo, where unemployment is 22.8 percent, leaders are discussing ideas with officials in East Palo Alto, which requires businesses in its redevelopment area or that receive at least $50,000 in a city subsidy to hire residents for 30 percent of available jobs. It encourages businesses to hire qualified locals as managers, not just for entry-level positions.

In Richmond, a group of residents met with Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin to discuss improving local hiring practices, resulting in recommendations that the City Council approved this month. They are expected to take effect mid-May after a second council reading of the ordinance.

Strong enforcement would be needed to ensure that the policy succeeds, residents said.

"It challenges all of us and challenge is a good thing, especially with a situation such as we have in Richmond where unemployment is out of control," said McKinley Ross, who helps run the Richmond Community-based Employment Collaborative. "It's a challenge for all of us to work hard to make sure the 25 percent is met. Let's come back in another year or two and raise the bar again."

RichmondWORKS, a city job-training program, has an aggregate local hire rate of about 30 percent in the past three years, said Sal Vaca, employment and training director. Locals worked 64 percent of the total hours providing security at the Civic Center; 40 percent renovating Nevin Park; 20 percent rehabilitating the Civic Center; and 18 percent in street paving.

Companies contracting with the city must show a good-faith effort to meet the local hire law. Officials issue a noncompliance letter before imposing daily fines that are 1 percent of the contract or up to $1,000, whichever is greater.

Businesses with 10 employees or fewer would be exempt under the revised law.

Officials must do better at creating job opportunities, Councilman Nat Bates said.

"What we have in the city of Richmond is a tremendous amount of (job) training, but there's no jobs for people after they get trained," Bates said. "That is embarrassing. That's where we have to focus upon: getting those jobs out in the community and making this city more receptive and open to bringing in the businesses. We need everything that has a job attached to it with a salary."

In East Contra Costa, neither Pittsburg nor Antioch has a local hiring policy, though Antioch has lobbied heavily for such practices on a couple housing developments and on construction of the eBART extension. The city asked that a minimum of 25 percent of the total construction hours and 50 percent apprenticeship hours for the BART work go to East Contra Costa residents.

Staff writers Paul Thissen and Paul Burgarino contributed to this story.

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