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New year, new strategies for local hire

Posted by: Gordon on 2/4/2016

Gamaliel, Partnership for Working Families, and PolicyLink are partnering around a federal Transportation Department initiative to pilot local-hire policies on federally-funded highway and transit projects. Meanwhile, the idea of tying local development to employment is getting a new look around the country including in Nashville, where Mayor Megan Barry held a news conference Jan. 28 to implement the policy following voters' approval of a charter revision last summer.


In January Gamaliel, Partnership for Working Families, and PolicyLink kicked off a local-hire project that focuses on providing opportunities for jobs and training to people in four communities across the country.

Two Partnership affiliates – Ebase in Oakland and FRESC in Denver – and two affiliates of Gamaliel, Virginia’s Empower Hampton Roads, and MICAH-Milwaukee are part of the local-hire project.

Each will organize a local coalition and develop strategies to insure transportation and transit infrastructure projects help strengthen local economies by hiring workers in the communities where roads and transit are built.

Job creation strategies on the move

The four groups’ work takes advantage of the pilot project Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced last March. About 30 years ago, courts held that local-hire policies could deter competition on infrastructure projects. Foxx created the project to re-examine that premise.

  • Cross-network collaboration is important to target the key places where federally-funded transportation projects eligible for local-hire under the pilot project and assemble the knowhow of groups experienced in creating and implementing local-hire strategies. The 4 projects that are part of the Gamaliel, PWF, and PolicyLink joint project are:
  • In Oakland, CA, Ebase is working to incorporate local-hire strategies into the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District’s $100-million-plus Bus Rapid Transit project.The district set a 50% local-hire goal in September.
  • In the Tidewater region of Virginia, Empower Hampton Roads is working to incorporate local-hire into a road-widening project on a segment of I-64.
  • In Denver, FRESC is working on the I-70 East expansion, a $1.8 billion project in a federally designated Environmental Justice community. 
  • In Milwaukee, MICAH is working on the Milwaukee streetcar project, one of the first to announce it would participate in the federal local hire pilot, estimated to be about a $124  million project. 

Over the coming months each organization will work to build partnerships with unions, contractors, and public and elected officials to build the will and the mechanisms to put local people to work on these construction projects.

Gamaliel, Partnership for Working Families, and PolicyLink will also work with the groups to build a learning community that meets monthly to share successes and strategies around developing local hire.

Interest in local initiatives up in Nashville and elsewhere

Meanwhile, there’s been an increase in interest in local, as opposed to federal, local-hire policies around the country. One of the leaders has been NOAH-Nashville.

NOAH, with support from LIUNA and other partners, advocated a ballot initiative amending the Nashville charter to require 40% local participation in any public-works project costing more than $100,000. The initiative won more support in the August election than anything else on the ballot, including new Mayor Megan Barry.

In the face of intense opposition--several state legislators are attempting to pass legislation that would outlaw local-hire strategies statewide--Barry announced a plan to address some objections in a Jan. 28 news conference. Barry's plan calls for creating a stronger pipeline for trained workers and phasing in penalties for non-compliance with the new policy. NOAH President Pastor Ed Thompson as well as leaders of local unions and contractors groups, stood behind her to support the plan at the news conference.

“When NOAH members came together and decided to organize around the local hire charter referendum, we did so with the sole intent of giving more hope and opportunity to Nashvillians who despite the growth and success of our city were struggling to find a good job and make ends meet,” Thompson said.

Nashville' economic growth is astonishing, with the New York Times naming Nashville "the 'it' city," Thompson and other NOAH leaders have said. "However, in the midst of giant cranes building hotels and condos sprouting like weeds, Nashville's poverty rate increased last year to 19.9%--meaning 1 in 5 Nashvillians lives in poverty.

Gamaliel affiliate ACTS-Syracuse leading a coalition proposing a city local-hire policy that would also target publicly-funded infrastructure projects of $100,000 or more. Faith Coalition for the Common Good, United Congregations of Metro East, Quad Cities Interfaith and other Gamaliel of Illinois groups are in talks with the Illinois Secretary of Transportation about a statewide local-hire policy, and MOSES, in Detroit, is discussed the policy tool with city officials.

More background on local-hire projects, including reports on how and where local –hire is being used, are available from PolicyLink and Partnership for Working Families. The U.S. Department of Transportation has a background page on its local hire pilot project as well.

Local and federal local-hire policies are likely to mesh when the final federal regulations are released later this year. They are expected to let cities and counties with local-hire ordinances use them on federally-funded transportation projects, as well. 

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