SF local hiring law is changing lives

City’s jobs legislation is already working and can work even better

by Ruben Santana

construction-site-in-silhouette, SF local hiring law is changing lives, Local News & Views As a union carpenter and general contractor with over 30 years of experience, I can safely say that the first year under San Francisco’s landmark new local hiring law exceeded even my hopeful expectations.

Last month, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor John Avalos announced that although the local hiring policy required only 20 percent local participation on construction in its first year, local residents performed 34 percent of all the job hours on covered projects. The legislation increased the diversity of the City’s construction workforce and boosted opportunities for local workers of color and women.

We have even seen local working families on the verge of departing San Francisco during this time of economic crisis stay in the city by securing employment through the new local hiring law.

There is no better time to promote inclusion of San Francisco’s communities on public works projects. Look around the city and one can view at least 16 cranes that have gone up around town with even more work breaking ground this year.

Thanks to this law, some longtime blue-collar workers who have been squeezed out of San Francisco have even moved back to the city for the chance to go back to work.

What is most exciting is that more youth are becoming interested in blue-collar careers and enjoying the quality of life that high-paying union construction jobs provide. To meet this demand, the City has invested in programs such as CityBuild and our community-based organizations that are at the ready to prepare them to excel in a union construction apprenticeship.

When I started out as a carpenter, these programs were not in place and there was less support for local workers starting out in the trades. My experience began during a period of longstanding barriers for workers of color and women and I had to work even harder to prove myself. Today, I am glad to see future potential workers benefit from my experience in supporting a local hiring policy that guarantees opportunities for a new generation of local craftsmen and craftswomen.

Our local hiring law is a continuation of the process of breaking down barriers to maintaining a blue-collar middle class in San Francisco.

The next step in making local hiring work as its employment requirements increase is to identify and support the unique role that local community contractors play. The City can help increase these early local hiring success stories by partnering with local contractors who actively recruit and employ local residents.

The Local Business Enterprise (LBE) ordinance alone does not accomplish that, as we have seen how non-local firms are sometimes able to hang a shingle in San Francisco, make minimal payroll and property tax contributions to the local economy, and claim the bidding preferences designed to promote and expand truly San Francisco-based contractors. The City should target opportunities for LBEs that also have a strong track record of consistently employing local residents.

The first year of local hiring has been more successful than most people imagined. To expand upon its success, we need to continue cultivating our local contractor community base and engaging the unique experiences of those of us who have been fortunate to make the transition from worker to business owner, giving back to the community by regularly employing San Franciscans to help rebuild this great city.

Ruben Santana is the owner of Rubecon Builders, Inc., a union general contractor based in Bayview Hunters Point with over 100 years of combined experience in the construction industry. Rubecon regularly employs in excess of 50 percent local workers on construction jobs and is a committed supporter of San Francisco’s Local Hiring Policy for Construction.