Conservatives keep anti-local hiring bill on life support as attack on community-labor partnerships limps out of first committee hearing

Assembly Republicans carry San Mateo Assemblyman Jerry Hill and AB 356 into second hearing next week, as Democrats flee bill opposed by cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and over 30 civil and workers’ rights groups

by Brightline Defense Project

Sacramento – The contrast was stark for those who attended this week’s hearing on San Mateo Assemblyman Jerry Hill’s anti-local hiring bill AB 356 in the Business and Professions Committee. A committee analysis of the bill listed 23 opponents from around the state, including national policy advocates Greenlining, the Equal Justice Society and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, UCLA’s LA Black Worker Center, Oakland-based East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, statewide advocates Chinese for Affirmative Action and Bay Area Latino organizers PODER. Under “Support,” the analysis contained just a single entry: “San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.”

Hill had amended the bill on April 25 in a desperate attempt to slow swelling statewide opposition, and at least 10 new organizations have already come out in opposition to his amended bill, including the Los Angeles City Council, the community-labor partnership organization Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and even constitutents in Hill’s own district in the form of the San Mateo Chapter of the NAACP. Yesterday, Hill told the San Mateo Daily Journal that the opposition to his anti-local hiring bill is “very localized to San Francisco,” prompting one unemployed teacher in Los Angeles to offer to come up to San Mateo to provide Mr. Hill with a free geography lesson if Hill foots the bill.

The San Francisco Appeal yesterday documented the fact that Assembly Democrats have found AB 356 to be untouchable, while the Assembly Republican Caucus has reportedly urged a strong “yes” for its members. Hill’s office has trumpeted a 5-0 vote at Tuesday’s committee meeting, artfully ignoring the four Democrats who abstained and the admonition from the sole Democrat to support Hill, as reported by the Appeal: “I’m not saying I would vote for this if it ever makes it to the actual Assembly floor. I’m saying that I want these questions answered and the dialogue between the cities to continue.”

The “question” of the day is whether the Los Angeles City Council’s April 27 unanimous vote to oppose AB 356 is responsive to Hill’s April 25 amended legislation or to his original Feb. 10 legislation. The L.A. resolution authored by Councilmember José Huizar, a longtime community advocate, clearly faults the fact that both versions of AB 356 “would also prohibit local governments from seeking to employ local workers on City-funded public works projects outside of City limits” as one of the main reasons for its opposition. Hill is said to be privately pleading with Los Angeles officials to withdraw their opposition to his amended bill.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee penned a strong letter of opposition to AB 356 and sent a delegation to Tuesday’s hearing, where testimony revealed that Hill’s bill would ban project labor agreements on regional projects with local or regional hiring goals due to the bill’s clumsy drafting. A debate about the “cost” of local hiring, or lack thereof, has policy makers seeking an analysis of the fiscal impact of AB 356’s requirement of a new layer of administrative bureaucracy to police whether local and regional agencies that target opportunities for local union members, even on work funded entirely by city tax dollars located entirely within city limits, are fronting the “cost” of their local hiring policies and project labor agreements. It is well established around the state that project labor agreements consistently bring projects in on time and under budget, particularly when local hiring provisions are included.

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, who penned San Francisco’s historic new local hiring law last year, noted that AB 356 has triggered a statewide community-labor coalition of opposition, suggesting that Mr. Hill “knows the writing is on the wall.”

Each of San Francisco’s four representatives in the Capitol, Sens. Leland Yee and Mark Leno and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano and Fiona Ma, have raised serious questions about AB 356.

“AB 356 threatens years of efforts to build community-labor partnerships around the state,” said Brightline’s Joshua Arce, who worked with community advocates around San Francisco to support Supervisor Avalos’ local hiring efforts and testified in support of local hiring and project labor agreements on Tuesday. “Hill has the Assembly Republican Caucus and his former colleagues from the San Mateo Board of Supervisors. We have a movement.”

Anti-local hiring assemblyman opposed in his own backyard – by the San Mateo NAACP

On top of already heaping opposition to his plan to limit the ability of California cities to pursue local hiring policies and local hiring project labor agreements, Assemblyman Jerry Hill is now opposed by activists in his own district. On Friday, April 29, the San Mateo branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, submitted a letter of opposition to Assembly Bill 356, Hill’s proposal that initially would have banned local hiring outright on public works projects funded with at least one dollar of state money.

In a desperate attempt to stop what has become a legislative trainwreck in light of opposition from civil rights organization and groups representing trade union members of color from around the state, Hill cobbled together an amendment to his job-killing legislation last week that bans local hiring unless cities can show that they, and not the state, bear the increased “cost” of local hiring. The amendment, which has been called a “poison pill” because Hill has argued for months that what he calls the increased “cost” of employing the minority workers and women that often benefit from local hiring programs is unquantifiable, has only increased opposition to the bill.

Hill maintains an absolute ban on local hiring even on 100 percent city-funded projects without a penny of state funding if the project extends even a foot beyond city limits. The City of Los Angeles, whose local hiring policies cover work that sometimes extends into one or more of the 87 additional cities included in Los Angeles County and whose taxpayer-funded aqueduct system extends 419 miles into the Sierras, unanimously voted to oppose Mr. Hill’s AB 356 on April 27.

At least 20 civil rights and community worker groups have signed letters of opposition to AB 356, including the Equal Justice Society, Greenlining Institute, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Los Angeles Black Worker Center, Global Exchange, Chinese for Affirmative Action, ¡PODER!, Young Community Developers, Mission Hiring Hall, Urban Habitat and Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth.

San Francisco adopted a new local hiring law on Dec. 25, 2010, that was authored by Supervisor John Avalos and widely supported by community groups, labor unions, contractors and government officials including Mayor Edwin Lee. The law took effect on March 25.

In a letter of opposition sent April 28, the San Mateo NAACP wrote that “our neighbors in San Francisco have created a law that ensures opportunities for their communities as well as for residents of San Mateo County through a regional approach and reciprocity agreements with our cities … shutting down state-funded construction in San Francisco and elsewhere that San Mateo workers count on for their livelihood is not the answer to any concerns we have about making local hiring work for the Bay Area.”

Sacramento sources say that Hill, a Democrat, is currently scrambling for Republican support for his measure, which has been deemed untouchable by Assembly Democrats in light of the breadth of opposition to AB 356. Hill told the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday, April 30, however, that his bill in “not in trouble.”

To learn more, visit Brightline Defense Project. Executive Director Joshua Arce can be reached at josh@brightlinedefense.org.