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Mounting opposition confronts San Mateo’s anti-local hiring assemblyman

April 28, 2011

Jerry Hill proposes to limit the ability of cities to use local hire programs to help unemployed construction union members find work on public projects

 

Mayor Ed Lee speaks with Aboriginal Blackmen United leader James Richards at the local hiring victory party Feb. 23. Supervisor John Avalos can be seen behind them. – Photo: John Upton, The Bay Citizen
San Mateo, Calif. – A sea of overwhelming opposition in cities from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles has risen against San Mateo Assemblymember Jerry Hill and his anti-local hiring measure, Assembly Bill 356, which threatens state funding for any California city with a local hiring policy or local hiring project labor agreement. At least 20 national, state and regional organizations representing workers of color, as well as advocates ranging from the NAACP to civil rights legend Eva Paterson, have filed letters of opposition to AB 356 in advance of next week’s hearing in the state Assembly’s Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee.

Facing widespread resistance to his ban on local hiring, Hill attempted to insert a desperate last-second “poison pill” amendment into his bill late Monday, only to galvanize increased opposition to legislation that many have called “a job-killer.”

Next Tuesday, May 3, will be the second time that Hill has tried calling a hearing on his proposal to limit the use of local hiring policies throughout California. Hill cancelled a March 22 hearing because he was “not ready yet,” according to his staff, though Hill has been gearing up his rhetoric for months.

In a January 2011 KQED radio interview, Hill indicated his belief that union members of color and female workers, who typically benefit from local hiring policies, are “untrained and unskilled” to do public works construction, and in the past Hill has argued that local hiring increases project costs to a level that is impossible to determine. The impracticality of identifying this perceived “cost” was articulated by Hill as one of the prime reasons for his February proposal to ban local hiring outright when at least a dollar of state funding is involved and his suggestion that a city would do better to “increase their general assistance program” rather than targeting jobs for community workers through local hiring policies.

Assemblymember Hill indicated his belief that union members of color and female workers, who typically benefit from local hiring policies, are “untrained and unskilled” to do public works construction. He suggests that a city would do better to “increase their general assistance program.”

As a result of Hill’s local hiring attacks, a statewide coalition of organizations has come together in solidarity to oppose Assembly Bill 356, including statewide community advocates such as the Greenlining Institute, the racial justice-oriented Equal Justice Society, the western region of the A. Philip Randolph Institute that represents thousands of Black trade union members, the San Francisco Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, national green jobs advocates Global Exchange, California public policy advocates Chinese for Affirmative Action, Bay Area Latino community organizers ¡PODER!, Bay Area job developers Young Community Developers, Mission Hiring Hall, and Anders & Anders Foundation, regional community advocates Urban Habitat, youth organization Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth, Bayview-based community empowerment advocates the Osiris Coalition, San Francisco community organizers South of Market Community Action Network, People Organized to Win Employment Rights, and Filipino Community Center, the San Francisco Chinese Club, and community contractors Kwan Wo Ironworks and Liberty Builders.

Perhaps the strongest letter of opposition to AB 356, however, came from the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, a community-labor-initiative of the UCLA Downtown Labor Center “committed to finding solutions to the Black jobs crisis and creating effective pipelines to quality jobs.” The center wrote that “without local hire policies, it is unclear whether the African American community would have real access” to careers in construction.

There are no known supporters of AB 356 other than Hill himself, with one Sacramento insider commenting that “no one in their right mind can come out to support this thing [AB 356] – at least no Democrats.” With Hill’s recent amendment to his local hiring bill causing clear fiscal impact to state and local government, a dreaded “triple-referral” to the Assembly Appropriations Committee is likely in the event Hill secures enough Republican support to move his measure through the Business and Professions and Local Government committees.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, a former civil rights attorney who has spent a lifetime fighting for equal opportunity, is said to have penned a letter of opposition to the California Assembly Tuesday, and other local agencies are understood to be on the verge of weighing in on a bill that would unfairly tie the hands of cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, Los Angeles, Hayward, Stockton, Fresno and East Palo Alto that have sought to alleviate historic levels of poverty in their communities by guaranteeing a minimum number of high-quality, good-paying union construction jobs for local residents and disadvantaged workers on taxpayer-funded projects. Bizarrely, Hill’s bill would force layoffs of union members in his own district as projects in East Palo Alto and San Francisco that benefit San Mateo workers are defunded.

Hill’s recent “hail mary” amendment continues to ban local hiring on projects that extend even a foot beyond city limits, while still prohibiting local hiring on state-funded construction unless local agencies can unequivocally show that they are footing the bill for every penny of what Hill has called the increased “cost” of employing local union members of color and women – a “cost” that Hill has for many months argued is impossible to quantify.

“It’s the classic poison pill,” said Joshua Arce, executive director of Brightline Defense Project, who worked with San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos and other community advocates to develop San Francisco’s new local hiring law. “Policy makers facing massive opposition often try to engage in this type of sleight of hand, but invariably they make things worse. No one is backing off until Hill drops his legislation entirely.”

Assemblymember Hill, who is said to be scheduled to lose his Assembly seat due to redistricting, has repeatedly refused to talk with Bay Area community advocates, instead proceeding with what has become a legislative train wreck.

Ironically, it was the San Francisco local hiring law recently authored by Supervisor Avalos which was the first of its kind to exempt state-funded construction and effectively balance local and regional workforce needs that initially ignited Hill’s wrath. Hill drew chuckles from reporters at his Feb. 11 anti-local hiring press conference in front of San Francisco International Airport, when he begrudgingly admitted that San Francisco’s local hiring ordinance does not apply to work at the airport. Sen. Leland Yee, who represents Hill’s San Mateo constituents in the state Senate as well as thousands of San Francisco workers, joined Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano in signing a Jan. 25 letter supporting the new San Francisco ordinance.

Hill’s position on the California High-Speed Rail, which begins and ends in cities with a local hiring law, has been shrouded in mystery, and AB 356 would kill that project outright despite overwhelming approval by California voters in 2008.

“Every city is doing what they can to battle historic unemployment in their communities while balancing the needs of their regional neighbors,” said James Bryant, director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a San Francisco Labor Council affiliate that represents Bay Area tradesmen and tradeswomen of color. “Communities vote for bonds and support projects in their neighborhoods with the expectation of sharing in the job opportunities that are created.”

To learn more, visit the Brightline Defense Project at www.brightlinedefense.org.

 

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