Ray Hall is a licensed journey-level electrician and lifelong Seattle resident. He has lived in the Rainier Beach neighborhood for 18 years. Despite his 14 years of electrical work experience, he is still a disadvantaged worker in his own community, consistently struggling to get jobs in Seattle. When the city-hired contractor began constructing the new Rainier Beach Community Center in 2010, no one from the surrounding, predominantly African American community was offered a job, including Ray. This is in spite of local environmental justice organization, Got Green, offering the contractor a list of nearly 50 qualified local residents who were ready to work.
Ray’s experience is not an anomaly. According to a recent study commissioned by the Seattle City Council, only 6 percent of all workers on Seattle city-funded construction projects were Seattle residents, while an overwhelming majority, nearly 70 percent of these workers, lived outside of King County.
The city can address this economic injustice by passing a Targeted Local Hire law, which would require contractors to employ a percentage of skilled and qualified workers from communities in Seattle-King County hardest hit by the recent recession. The use of city funds on construction and public works projects should not only improve the community’s infrastructure, but should also strengthen our local economy by reducing local unemployment and supporting local businesses. Unemployment and the lack of access to living wage jobs remain key challenges for workers living in economically distressed communities. In order to put these communities back to work, we need policies that prioritize lifting local residents out of poverty by giving them access to construction careers.
In turn, this will strengthen the local economy because local workers from economically marginalized communities employed under a Targeted Local Hire policy will likely spend their living wages at local businesses. San Francisco enacted a similar law in 2011 that was supported by a broad coalition, including the Brightline Defense Project, Inner City Youth, and the Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA). The San Francisco law is expected to inject $177 million into that city’s general fund over ten years.
Additionally, Targeted Local Hire allows people to work where they live. This fits in line with Seattle’s desire to protect the environment and address climate change. Transportation accounts for 40 percent of Seattle’s climate pollution. The pollution resulting from daily commutes in private cars and trucks to Seattle from outside King County also results in increased air pollution making it harmful for our children and elders to breathe.
Last summer, in front of a packed hearing hall, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to address disparities in City public works construction hiring by forming a committee to recommend policy options including Targeted Local Hire. Six months later this committee is preparing to wrap up its work. Now is the time to ensure that we pass a law that does not support the status quo. To ensure that Ray’s experience does not happen again, we must be bold and implement a law for public works that requires that contractors hired with Seattle taxpayer dollars provide work opportunities to residents of economically struggling neighborhoods in King County.
A Targeted Local Hire policy is good for our environment, our economy, and our communities. Targeted Local Hire is a win-win-win.