By Ken A. Epstein
Despite past local hiring laws, Oakland residents have long failed to find jobs, even at publicly funded construction projects, which notoriously have hired only 5 percent African American workers in journeymen positions.
All that may start to change as the result of the new community benefits, local hire ordinance, passed unanimously by the Oakland City Council Tuesday night, designed to set hiring guidelines for construction at the old Army Base site, the largest piece of industrial land left in the city.
The ordinance was crafted as a result of nine months of intense negotiations that included community groups, business organizations and labor unions.
The new ordinance, which is the first of its kind in the city, is intended to have teeth and requires 50 percent local hiring in journeymen positions and 100 percent local hiring in apprentice positions.
Unheard of previously in Oakland, the law also requires that the 50 percent local hiring provision applies to businesses that will move into the site once construction is completed.
For Oakland, this will mean 3,000 construction jobs and jobs in businesses that open at the Army Base – as many as 8,000 in total – “Thousands of jobs that are going to be here for 20 and 30 years,” said Councilmember Jane Brunner, who chaired the committee that negotiated the wording of the ordinance.
“(The ordinance) has been a lot of work, (and) it started in a lot of conflict. But what you have before you is 100 percent consensus on key elements, especially about putting West Oakland (and the rest of Oakland) to work,” said Brian Beveridge, speaking at the City Council meeting. Beveridge is a member of the OaklandWORKS alliance and a leader of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.
The law also “bans the box,” creating job opportunities for workers with prison records and who will not be required to put that information on their job applications.
Further, the law creates a jobs center – a place through which all jobs must pass – so that it is possible to monitor and enforce the hiring agreements.
The groundwork for this was laid by years of efforts by community groups and members of the City Council, Desley Brooks, Jane Brunner and Nancy Nadel. Brunner acknowledged that the low number of African-American workers who have been able to obtain construction employment stimulated controversy and established the need for the Jobs Task Force.
Brooks has crafted a pilot agreement that requires that prime contractors on Army Base remediation projects must be local firms. OaklandWORKS is a West Oakland based, citywide advocacy alliance, that has focused on Oakland Army Base development. Founding members include Leadership Excellence, PUEBLO, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Oakland Black Caucus, John George Democratic Club, NAACP, Oakland Natives Give Back and Oakland Parents Together.
The mission of the alliance is to advocate for Oakland’s underrepresented communities and the traditionally underserved in the areas of economics, social, and environmental justice.
OaklandWORKS and other community groups are emphasizing that despite the passing of the ordinance, community members and groups have to stay active to make sure the law is implemented.
“There have been promises about jobs made to the flatlands communities before. This policy is a much better framework for making it happen, but people in the community are going to have to stay involved over the next few years to create real action on the problem,” said Kitty Kelly Epstein at the Council meeting. She became involved in the issue while working with former Mayor Ron Dellums, and she is currently a member of OaklandWORKS.
Community and youth who spoke at the meeting also backed the ordinance.
“Give us a chance to be able to work. I need something I can count on,” said Fernando Thompson, a West Oakland resident.
Rose Mouton, an ironworker, told the City Council how much having a construction job has meant in her life. “I have a felony conviction, (but) somebody gave me an opportunity to work,” she said. “I can ride around Oakland and see all the work I’ve done, ” including the Fox Theatre and other local building projects.