Mayor seeks to prioritize area hires for city construction projects

Mayor Murray today proposed legislation to the Seattle City Council that would establish a priority hire program for City public works construction projects of $5 million or more.

The goal of the legislation is to improve access to construction employment and improve training programs for workers in need of family-wage jobs, while minimizing increased costs on City projects. The proposed ordinance would prioritize the hiring of residents that live in economically distressed areas, particularly in Seattle and King County.

“We must do more to bring underrepresented workers into construction careers and allow them access to public works projects funded by the City of Seattle,” said Murray. “We are making much needed investments in City infrastructure, but we must do more to prioritize construction career opportunities for area workers seeking to build their skills.”

Currently, only six percent of workers on City construction projects live in Seattle and only 25 percent live in King County.

Residents of economically distressed areas are even less likely to work on City projects. Only five percent of construction workers contributing to City projects live in the economically disadvantaged areas of Seattle and only nine percent live in King County’s economically disadvantaged areas.

Around one-quarter of all hours worked on City construction projects are provided by members of racial minority groups. Only nine percent of apprentice and four percent of journey-level hours worked were provided by women.

The proposal would use poverty levels, concentrated unemployment and gaps in educational attainment to identify economically distressed communities by zip code, with the aspirational goal of increasing construction career opportunities for women and racial minorities.

The legislation also increases existing requirements for contractors to hire apprentices and introduces requirements for hiring of graduates from local pre-apprentice institutions. The legislation directs the Department of Finance and Administrative Services to support pre-apprentice and apprentice programs in ways that may increase graduation rates and worker retention, including concentrated recruitment to Seattle and King County workers, scholarships for tuition, boots, and tools, and providing classes.

The legislation also directs the City’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services to execute a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for projects meeting the $5 million threshold for construction costs. PLAs provide a means for unions and union contractors to meet priority hire objectives. PLAs will also ensure that workers and contractors have access to dispute resolution resources and clear rules to help avoid the risk of labor stoppages and/or shortages.

The City piloted the use of a PLA for the Seawall project, and so far has surpassed the traditional performance for hiring of local residents (43 percent of the hours served), women (15 percent of the hours served), people of color (30 percent of the hours served), and those from distressed neighborhoods in Seattle and King County (21 percent).

The goal of the new law is to give access to careers in construction – from pre-apprentice, to apprentice and journey-level worker training. The use of PLAs ensures that hires through the program would have access to union apprenticeships, which cover 45 occupations in 19 construction trades.

The mayor’s proposal is a result of recommendations by the Construction Careers Advisory Committee, which included contractors, labor representatives, training providers and community advocates.  The group was established by the Mayor and City Council in 2013 to make recommendations based on their review of the demographic profile of city construction workers, the construction labor market, the unavailability of a labor force to meet the demand, and current best practices in linking career development and municipal public works construction.