Gate 14 of Oakland Army Base
The Oakland Army Base Redevelopment will involve demolition and clean up, new construction, and maintaining permanent warehouses. Jobs will include construction workers, warehouse clerks, forklift drivers, package handlers, truck drivers, and mechanics. To ensure that Oakland residents obtain at least 50% of the jobs, the City of Oakland approved a 'local hiring' agreement, requiring that 50% of the project's work hours be completed by Oakland residents.
The goal of local hire is to ensure there are local employment opportunities on city construction sites. Contractors awarded certain types of publicly-funded projects are required to recruit a certain number of residents living in the area. Many major cities have such ordinances in place. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed one requiring that 20% of construction workers on city projects need to live locally. This is supposed to rise to 50% by 2017.
One of the main challenges is that individuals who favor local hire have never done construction or worked in a warehouse and assumes anyone could do this type of work. There is this basic belief that these types of jobs require little skill. And if skills are needed, any 12-week training should be enough to qualify someone to do them. If that were the case, Sungevity and BrightSource would be hiring graduates from the green job training programs that thousands of East Bay youth attend each year. Graduates of these programs are lucky if they get an interview, let alone a job with these companies.
The fact is that these jobs require skills. Hard skills, such as being able to operate demolition tools, concrete saws, cement mixers, and air compressors. These jobs also require skills often referred to as “soft skills.” These are intangible skills, such as arriving to work on time, giving a 100% effort, following directions, and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Contractors often identify “soft skills” as those most lacking in local hires.
“I want new workers to hustle,” a local contractor confided in me. When talking about his experience with local hires in the past, his response, “the first thing they ask is ‘when is break?’ and ‘when do I get paid?’”
Another challenge for contractor with local hires is the bidding process. When a contractor is bidding for a project they need to know what their employees are capable of doing in order to estimate how much a project will cost to complete. They need to be able to answer questions like “how many hours will it take two men to drywall a room?” “How much supervision will a new employee need?” If a contractor is hiring individuals whose skill level is unfamiliar or possibly suspect, how can he make an accurate bid?
Often when contractors do hire someone in order to meet a local hiring ordinance, they will marginalize them. Because they feel they are unsure of their skill level and ability, they may confine their duties to stopping traffic, running errands for others, loading and unloading, and cleaning up at the end of the day. Although the local hire is getting paid, their skills are not developing, and neither is their value for obtaining future work opportunities. This can be especially discouraging for apprenticeships, who are working for scant wages, with the hope of obtaining the skills necessary to become a journeyman in their trade.
To verify that workers are local residents, cities require contractors to provide them with certified pay role lists. Some even require that contractors provide them with identification cards of their employees. To sidestep this, one contractor had a number of his employees obtain illegal identification cards showing they lived in a certain part of the city. In the Bay Area obtaining such identifications are inexpensive and quick. The contractor said that the city monitors never found out. He also went on to say, that if they had he could not be penalized. He would just say, “I am not the INS. It is not my job to check people’s identification.”
The reality is that no one likes to be told who they have to hire. Anyone who has ever had to hire someone will say they want the most qualified person. Most employers have policies and procedures in place to try to ensure they make the right hire. Not making the right hire can be costly.
The City of Oakland and all the organizations involved in securing the “local hiring” agreement have the best intentions. However, they would not likely want to be told who they must hire. And if they were, their response would be the same as any employer, to hire the right person for the right job. I am sure most Oakland employers would like to hire more local residents, people of color, veterans, the disabled, and the formerly incarcerated—but the reality is that they do not. They hire people who they think are best for the job and who they believe will ‘fit in’ well with their work environment.
If one group of employers is told they must hire a certain percentage of local residents, why shouldn’t other employers also do the same? There are a large number of Oakland youth of color with certificates in green jobs, and numerous green employers in Oakland not hiring them.
To read more about developments at the Army Base, go to www.eastbayjobdevelopers.org