School Board members embrace growing calls to guarantee opportunities for local workers and businesses
by Joshua Arce
Last year, San Francisco Unified School District was prepared to rubber stamp a “good faith efforts” local hiring approach to $531 million of taxpayer funded construction approved by voters in the fall of 2011. Community and labor leaders agreed that a similar 2008 plan did little to deliver opportunities for local residents, particularly for graduates of public schools looking to begin a career in the construction industry, or for local contractors. An August 2012 protest by community activists ABU that shut down construction at Bayview’s Willie Brown Middle School because of lack of local workers punctuated the need for change as the summer drew to a close.
That is when School Board Commissioners Norman Yee and Sandra Lee Fewer began what may turn out to be a historic effort to reform the district’s local hiring and contracting policies. Last week, school officials introduced a draft policy based on San Francisco’s successful local hiring ordinance and local business enterprise policy that comes close to delivering on many months of hard work by the School Board and a dynamic coalition of leaders and organizations. A final vote is expected in June.
Last fall, Yee and Fewer began a series of conversations with community advocates, organized labor representatives, local contractors and San Francisco city officials to explore the potential for a new policy modeled on the landmark San Francisco Local Hire Ordinance crafted by Supervisor John Avalos and successfully implemented by Mayor Ed Lee. Yee and Fewer worked with civil rights non-profits Chinese for Affirmative Action and Brightline Defense Project, who jointly published the groundbreaking 2010 “Failure of Good Faith” local hiring report, to develop a resolution intended to deliver on this community input, entitled “Creating an Equitable Pathway to Community Contracting and Hiring.”
Last week, school officials introduced a draft policy based on San Francisco’s successful local hiring ordinance and local business enterprise policy that comes close to delivering on many months of hard work by the School Board and a dynamic coalition of leaders and organizations.
Little did Commissioner Fewer know that, as Commissioner Norman Yee became San Francisco Supervisor Norman Yee in the November 2012 election, she would inherit a torch of leadership that she has carried like an Olympic marathon runner, building support among her School Board colleagues and an increasingly broad cross-section of the public along the way.
Organizations from across San Francisco united around the idea that we can revitalize our schools by working with our communities to rebuild them, that there is increasing interest among young people to enter the construction industry as workers in good-paying jobs with benefits and a pension and as potential future business owners, that community groups and organized labor can work together to revitalize middle class San Francisco and empower low-income communities of color.
Student and parent organizers Coleman Advocates for Youth and Children polled their members and found access to good-paying construction jobs on school district construction is a priority for public school families. Community contractors organized by Liberty Builders as the Rising Sun coalition engaged the school district to call for direct access to build schools in the City’s southeast sector. Building trade unions such as the Laborers, Carpenters and Operating Engineers stood in support of community partnerships they have developed over the past several years working to implement the City’s local hiring law. Contractors organized among members of the Latino Democratic Club pushed for transparency in reporting how school construction contracts are awarded.
Discussions at School Board hearings over the past several months have often been intense. In January, a young man told of his struggles to support his family as the economy continues to rebound and expressed grief in losing his 20-year-old son to violence. Meetings between the Rising Sun coalition and school officials became heated and spilled over into very public exchanges. School personnel insisted on “carve-outs” for small projects for which they argued local hiring and contracting requirements need not apply. The district’s chief counsel even fumbled on the legality of local hiring, stonewalling School Board members for months until finally admitting to the San Francisco Chronicle in February that he was mistaken and agreeing that mandatory local hiring is a legally sound option for School Board consideration.
San Francisco School Board Commissioner Sandra Fewer has been carrying the local hiring and contracting torch lit by Norman Yee.
During this span Commissioner Fewer was joined by many of her colleagues in expressing support for reform. The newest member of the School Board, Commissioner Matt Haney, came aboard as a co-sponsor of the “Creating Equitable Pathways” resolution, stating his desire for a solution that works for all local hiring and contracting stakeholders, accompanied by increased coordination with the City and County of San Francisco’s policies.
Commissioner Hydra Mendoza stated her support for a new approach, highlighting the success of San Francisco’s local hiring policy in jumpstarting local participation on city-funded construction as a model worth replicating at the School District. School Board President Rachel Norton created an environment welcome to thoughtful debate among all parties during public hearings, while Commissioner Kim-Shree Maufus encouraged all local hiring and contracting stakeholders to respect one another during an admittedly complex and emotionally-charged process.
Perhaps the most unsung hero during deliberations that have at last produced a draft policy for public review and community comment, however, is School Superintendent Richard Carranza. The son of a sheet metal worker who has committed himself to both college and career options for district students, Superintendent Carranza has stood firm in guiding his staff through a fact-driven and analysis-intensive process of crafting new district policies.
“We have come a long way toward a local contracting and local hire policy,” said Liberty Builders’ Dr. Willie Ratcliff, who previously reached impasse with the superintendent during discussions with the Rising Sun coalition. “I congratulate Superintendent Carranza for his stand against even some of his staff who wanted no change at all. And I want to thank the School Board commissioners for listening to our demands to stop the discriminatory lockout of people of color and other residents of San Francisco from jobs and contracts being given to others who pay no taxes in San Francisco.”
“I have been doing this work for decades and have rarely seen public officials turn things around as quickly as the superintendent and School Board commissioners have done,” said Dr. Espanola Jackson, the iconic Bayview Hunters Point activist and co-chair of the Black Human Rights Leadership Council of San Francisco, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday.
“We have come a long way toward a local contracting and local hire policy,” said Liberty Builders’ Dr. Willie Ratcliff, who previously reached impasse with the superintendent during discussions with the Rising Sun coalition.
The “Creating Equitable Pathways” resolution was unanimously passed by the School Board in March, complete with an amendment to replicate to the fullest extent possible the provisions of the San Francisco Local Hiring Policy. An April 9 letter calling for School District adoption of the San Francisco Local Hire Ordinance signed by 15 community-based organizations that supported Supervisor Avalos’ successful 2010 effort to require local jobs for local communities preceded the April 23 unveiling of a long-awaited draft local hiring and local contracting policy for school district construction.
The draft policy is leaps and bounds beyond failed “good faith efforts” of the past. It calls for a minimum of 30 percent of total construction hours and 50 percent of total apprentice hours to be performed by local residents. There are proposed sanctions in the case of non-compliance. The draft specifies 25 percent of total construction and non-construction contracts for local business enterprises, 30 percent for minority-owned business enterprises and 5 percent for woman-owned business enterprises. The district will implement the policy through a project labor agreement to ensure that construction is completed on time and under budget in partnership with jointly managed apprenticeship programs and a highly skilled workforce.
There are also serious flaws with the draft policy. It continues to suffer from a $2 million “carve out” that exempts small projects where local workers and contractors can benefit the most – community advocates have called for the new policy and project labor agreement to apply to all projects big and small.
“The $2 million carved out by school personnel cuts the heart out of the program,” declares Dr. Ratcliff. “No local hiring and no local contracting for smaller contracts says to us that they’re for big contractors only, and you are not invited to apply. We need to start meeting again on this ‘$2 million set aside for the big boys’ and to create an equitable pathway for all local hiring and contracting stakeholders. As the owner of Liberty Builders general contractor and the general partner in Rising Sun Developers LP, I am requesting that we continue to meet and make this the best law in the country with support of all stakeholders. ‘San Francisco knows how,’ they say; so let’s do what is good for all.”
The draft also falls short in targeting opportunities for past and future public school graduates who are most hungry for these good-paying jobs that they and their families fund with their tax dollars. The sanctions proposed for local hiring non-compliance are vague and weak to the point of likely being ineffective.
Furthermore, lack of penalties for cases of non-compliance with the local business program foreshadows disappointment among community contractors. Language embracing “the spirit” of the San Francisco Local Hire Ordinance falls short of that found in the “Creating Equitable Pathways” resolution. Finally, local hiring compliance is proposed to sit with a School District Bond Oversight Committee that recently raised eyebrows by requesting school district expense of hundreds of thousands of dollars to “study” local hiring.
The long journey to an equitable pathway for community workers and contractors at San Francisco Unified has seen great progress over the past year; and the same policy makers, community members, labor leaders and community contractors that brought us this far appear poised to carry a torch now held by many across the line between longstanding hope and a truly historic reality.
Joshua Arce, executive director of the civil right non-profit Brightline Defense Project, can be reached at email@example.com. Brightline is a non-profit civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and empowering communities. Brightline’s efforts have included campaigns to shut down dirty fossil fuel power plants in Southeast San Francisco, promote local renewable energy, and develop local hiring policies and community workforce agreements to increase blue-collar and green-collar employment opportunities for residents of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and environmental justice communities. Learn more at www.brightlinedefense.org.