Faith Leaders Pleased Speech Highlights Change In Federal Contract Rules

Posted by: Gordon on 1/28/2014
SOTULeaders from Gamaliel’s Milwaukee affiliate, MICAH, appeared with the president when he traveled to Waukesha, Wisc. and from its Pittsburgh affiliate, PIIN, in West Mifflin, Pa. today in support of jobs proposals he outlined in the State of the Union speech.

In particular, leaders of Gamaliel – the Chicago-based, faith-oriented group with which President Obama cut his teeth as a community organizer in the 1990swere excited about the president's plans to increase the minimum wage for all federal contractors, and plans to take action on regulations on issues where Congress cannot or will not make progress.

"Whenever and wherever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that is what I am going to do," the President said.

Gamaliel has advocated since last fall for regulatory changes to encourage construction firms to hire lower-income women and people of color to build innovative public transit, water treatment and other projects that address the nation’s infrastructure deficit and prepare the country for climate change--Gamaliel's Jobs for All Campaign.

Current rules rely on construction companies to demonstrate good-faith efforts in hiring women and people of color instead of establishing formal plans. The rules recommend participation targets based on Census details about population makeup that is out of date. For example, the government recommends construction contractors offer about 7 percent of available positions in their projects to women, a figure set in 1980.

Most observers agree the U.S. needs to invest billions to update and render more sustainable the country’s bridges, roads and transit, water and sewer systems in the coming decade. In 2013 alone new projects got under way or into planning stages, such as sewer improvements in St. Louis, regional transit to the tune of $475 million in Pittsburgh, and planning for high-speed-rail in Springfield, Ill. and a $240 billion investment (through 2040) in transit in the Bay Area, part of California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection initiative.

Because federal tax dollars and federal contract rules support nearly all construction projects, Gamaliel and other advocates want President Obama to introduce policies to update those contract regulations, which are overseen by a Department of Labor agency, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, OFCCP. The advocates also seek updated apprenticeship policies from the Labor Department, and want the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to monitor public housing improvements to ensure area residents have a fair shot at jobs, as already required by law.

Last fall, officials in the Obama administration said they would move forward on all three, but progress stalled. “We’re hoping for changes to these regulations this year,” Garcia-Ashley said. “This will create new jobs, modernize the country, and strengthen the economy.”

“Building more bridges and transit can pull our communities into the 21st century,” says Gamaliel Executive Director Ana Garcia-Ashley. “We can create good jobs that offer opportunities to the people who need the jobs most, and get it done efficiently. That’s our triple bottom line.”
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