Long Beach Community Action Partnership Executive Director Darick Simpson speaks at press conference urging the city council to create Long Beach local hire policy in its project labor agreements. Photo: Jason Ruiz
Standing in front of Long Beach City Hall with the demolition of Lincoln Park as the backdrop, a coalition of neighborhood groups pushing for more robust local hiring practices gathered Wednesday morning for a press conference in which they again pushed for a policy that would mandate hiring Long Beach residents over those from surrounding cities.
The Long Beach Local Hire Coalition, which includes groups like the Long Beach Community Action Partnership (LBCAP), Building Healthy Communities Long Beach and Women In Non-Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), organized the conference to highlight what it characterized as a failure on the city’s behalf to follow through on hiring Long Beach residents as outlined in a citywide project labor agreement (PLA) passed in 2015.
In April 2015, the city council approved a five-year PLA applying to all projects entered into by the city that exceeded $500,000. Among other provisions, the PLA included stated goals for local hires (40 percent) and disadvantaged hires (10 percent), defined by federal guidelines of “below 70 percent of the lower living standard income” including veterans. The percentages were to be calculated based on total hours worked.
Prior to the passage of the PLA, the same groups fought for a policy that would have built in stronger requirements to hire people from within the city to satisfy the “hire local” provision of the PLA.
The agreement does not extend to projects like the ongoing Long Beach Civic Center replacement or the Belmont Plaza Pool projects or other city right of way projects.
The group alleges that of the 75,487 total work hours spread over 13 projects since the PLA was passed in 2015, the number of those hours worked by Long Beach residents represents a paltry portion of the city’s local hire goals.
Based on figures from January-February of this year, Parsons Constructors Inc., the company tapped by the city to track the local hire initiative, just 17 percent of those hours were worked by residents of Long Beach. The figure for disadvantaged hires detailed in the reports stands at 4.7 percent, falling just shy of half of the 10 percent goal outlined in the PLA.
In the PLA’s language, “local” was extended to encompass all of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The PLA grouped workers into three tiers of zip codes with Tier 1 zip codes being those inside the city, Tier 2 representing gateway cities and Tier 3 representing county figures combined with Tiers 1 and 2.
“Anyone that lives in this region knows that that is not local when it comes to Long Beach,” LBCAP Executive Director Darick Simpson said.
The core of the disagreement hinges on the definition of local, with the city’s view of it spanning across two counties and the organizers feeling that local should translate to Long Beach residents.
An hourly breakdown of the Drake-Chavez Soccer Field project. Graphic: Long Beach Local Hire Coalition
For a project at Colorado Lagoon three companies (LA Engineering, Acme General Engineering, Savala Equipment) exceeded the local hire of 40 percent with 100 percent local hires being generated through Savala and LA Engineering and 80 percent local hires coming from Acme. However, hours attributed to Tier 1 zip codes were 17 percent (LA Engineering) 20 percent (Acme) and zero percent for Savala.
A project to install a soccer field at Drake Park, part of a plan to link it with Cesar Chavez Park, included 47 percent of hours worked by local hires, however, only 8 percent were from Tier 1 communities. All but two of the companies listed in the figures by Parsons showed 0 percent Tier 1 hires with the majority of hires for the project falling into the Tier 3 category.
The Seaside Way Pedestrian Bridge had seven companies exceed 45 percent for local hire rates but of those companies only three hired from Tier 1 zip codes with Powell Constructors led the way with 17 percent. The Seaside bridge project did include 8 percent of its hours worked by disadvantaged hires.
Alexandra Torres Galancid, executive director at WINTER, said she has about 20 women who have passed pre-apprenticeship programs and have national trades certificates who are ready to go to work but she has not been able to place them in a job in the city. She said that the problem is not a supply issue, as her group has workers, just no place in the city that has requested their skills.
“We have women who are cement masons, we have women who are operating engineers, we have women who are laborers, which is what is needed in the beginning and the end of each project,” Galancid said.
Landing jobs provided by the PLA could have multiple impacts on the city. Although the city’s recently released unemployment statistics (4.4 percent) show that the city as a whole is experiencing relative employment success, the number is an average that doesn’t fully capture the disproportionate impacts of unemployment in the city.
According to 2014 unemployment figures from Pacific Gateways Workforce Development, one of the entities involved in helping place local hires in jobs under the PLA, the 90813 zip code which includes much of Central Long Beach, had an unemployment rate of 19 percent.
That same year the 90810 (West Long Beach) and the 90805 (North Long Beach) both had unemployment rates of 12 percent. The 90803, which includes Belmont Shore and Naples, had an unemployment rate of just 3 percent.
Erik Miller, associate director of PV Jobs, a non-profit that helps place at-risk and disadvantaged youth, adults and veterans into construction jobs, said that the money earned from those construction jobs can have a transformative effect on people in those groups.
“Everyday we’re able to place someone at one of these jobs I can see the change, not just financially on that young man or young woman that we’ve placed, but on their families,” Miller said. “And that’s the thing that’s probably the most rewarding when it comes to what we do at PV Jobs.”
Miller, who challenged Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrews for his seat in last year’s election, noted that the coalition is not out for an overhaul of the PLA, just an amendment to the language that would guarantee more inclusion for local and disadvantaged persons.
Part of the PLA passed in 2015 included language that stated that trades unions would “exert their best efforts to refer, recruit, and/or utilize ‘local residents’” which it defined as qualified workers living in the tiered zip codes, listed in ascending order.
Long Beach Public Affairs Officer Kerry Gerot said that according to what the PLA outlined when passed, the city has met and will continue to meet the goals detailed in the PLA, and that it remains the city council’s preference that local residents are hired first for these kinds of jobs.
“The city is making every effort,” Gerot said. “Everyone wants to see Long Beach residents employed.” A release put out by the city Wednesday afternoon shared updated employment information regarding the PLA. The release states that out of 15 city projects which have totaled over $48 million all projects involved cumulatively “far exceeded” the 40 percent local hiring provision. The projects have accounted for 168,000 work hours with 78 percent of those being local hires. However, the number of Long Beach hires sits at about 20 percent.
“Long Beach residents performed approximately 1 out of every 5 hours on a PLA project,” said Long Beach Public Works Director Craig Beck. “While there is always room for improvement, this is a great first step.”
The current PLA is good for five years at which point it will be revisited by the city council. There will be an opportunity for the council to include a policy that requires local hire marks instead of stating goals, and that’s something that the coalition appears ready to press forward on.
“As Long Beach continues to become a hub of economic activity and our city continues to prioritize economic development such as what you see and hear around us here today, it’s important that all Long Beach residents have access to these new opportunities,” Simpson said. “Living wage jobs, ladies and gentlemen, is what my mission is at Long Beach CAP, and that is the mission of this coalition.”
[Editors note: The original version of this story stated that the project labor agreement was passed in November 2015; it was passed in April 2015. The story has been changed to correct the date.]