Rainier Valley is a constantly changing landscape with new developments being built all along the light rail. It’s also home to more people of color than any other Seattle neighborhood (70 percent overall). And it’s the neighborhood that’s struggling the most: 50 percent more families live below the federal poverty level, and the unemployment rate is twice as much as that of the entire city’s. More and more families are having to move to south of Seattle due to gentrification and the lack of jobs.

“It’s frustrating to see work happening in our neighborhood that we, as workers, are skilled to do, but did not have an opportunity to be a part of,” said Frederick Simmons, a journeyman electrician of 25 years referencing the work done on the Rainier Beach Community Center that contracted out workers from as far as Pierce County.

As it stands, there is no requirement for contractors to hire construction jobs locally, while project-to-project workforce agreements have resulted in too little results. And with Initiative 200 reversing affirmative action, hiring programs in Washington state aren’t creating enough job opportunities for workers of color and women.

Violet Lavatai, an advocate with Got Green, wants to see  targeted local hire in Seattle. Photo from Got Green.
Violet Lavatai, an advocate with Got Green, wants to see targeted local hire in Seattle. Photo from Got Green.

On June 17th, Got Green and South Seattle residents presented more than 600 signed petition cards to the Seattle City Council from community members urging them to pass a citywide Targeted Local Hire Ordinance. The petition read: “Hiring locally helps stop climate change, strengthens our communities and will provide opportunity for Seattle Residents to secure liable wage employment.”

Local hire advocates and community members presented these hundreds of petition cards attached together into a scroll by unrolling the entire streamed end-to-end across the entire council chambers as community members testified for the need for good-paying jobs in South Seattle.

“We have spent the past year building support and leadership to address the issue of unemployment,” said Michael Woo, director of Got Green and veteran labor organizer. “A Targeted Local Hire ordinance is a solution many in my community have been waiting for.”

Targeted local hire is how other cities — such as Oakland and Berkeley, Calif., Baltimore, Md.  Hartford, Conn. and Portland, Ore.  — have approached job equity. San Francisco in particular shows what’s possible. In its first year of policy implementation, the city’s local hire ordinance reached 34 percent local hiring on city-funded construction projects — 14 percent more than its original goal. By its seventh year in 2017, the city expects to reach at least 50 percent of hiring for city projects to be filled by local residents, and requires that no less than 25 percent of those hired be disadvantaged workers, including those that are unemployed, low-income, single custodial parents and vocational English language learners.

Under targeted local hire, disadvantaged communities can gain more access to career opportunities, valuable job skills and earning power to revitalize their neighborhoods and local economy.

The potential is here in Seattle, too. The City of Seattle plans to spend more than six billion public tax dollars on improving the city’s infrastructure and building public facilities. Thousands of new jobs will be created in the next six years.

“It’s important that our City Council and local government use this opportunity to spur economic development for South Seattle residents,” said James Hong, director of youth and community engagement at Vietnamese Friendship Association, a nonprofit service provider and community group based in South Seattle. “Targeted local hire is another step toward ensuring working families have the same opportunities to grow and thrive and contribute to the success of Seattle.”

Local jobs are also good for the environment. A major environmental group, Sierra Club, has been supporting the efforts for targeted local hire in Seattle. By living by their workplace, people will cut down on their carbon footprint by walking, biking or using public transportation more. In this way, we can fight climate change and also strengthen our community and its economic vitality. That’s why Got Green considers local jobs “green jobs.”

More than 30 community, labor, and environmental organizations have joined together to show city leaders that a targeted local hire ordinance is necessary to create opportunity and reduce displacement in South Seattle.

“People in the South end are ready to get back to work to sustain themselves and their families,” said Woo. “Now is the time to work together to make living-wage, green jobs a reality for communities that have been hurting economically for so long.”

For more information on the Targeted Local Hire Ordinance, please visit www.gotgreenseattle.org.

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