Some four years into a project labor agreement between local unions and Long Beach, changes could be coming after the City Council voted Tuesday night to initiate a report that could change how it fulfills its hiring goals on future construction projects.
A 7-0 vote to receive and file an update on the project labor agreement also came with requests for city staff to look into the costs associated with introducing a jobs coordinator into the agreement, a move that community groups say could result in more Long Beach residents hired to complete city construction projects.
The report is expected to come back to the City Council in 30 days, but the fact that the item was put on the agenda as a receive and file rankled some members who said it tied their hands on what they could and could not do.
“To be told that it wasn’t noticed correctly tells me that it was an inadvertent—and I’ll take it as inadvertent—or an intentional attempt to limit our abilities to do our jobs as the City Council,” said Councilman Rex Richardson. “I do not appreciate that.”
The Ralph M. Brown Act requires a 72-hour noticing period for what a body is voting on or discussing and deviations from what is put on the city’s agenda could trigger a Brown Act violation. Because the item was listed as a receive and file it required the council to request another discussion at a future meeting where actions could potentially be voted on.
The council is likely to discuss again the structure of the project labor agreement after the report is concluded by city staff. The original agreement outlined a three-year check-in point where the council could analyze data from the first years of completed projects and potentially make recommendations for how to bolster it.
Tuesday’s meeting came four years after the labor agreement was initially reached.
“I don’t like to talk too much about process up here, but this process was extremely frustrating,” said Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce. “We had this item pulled from the agenda so we could try and get it right and be on the same page and to have it come back as a receive and file…it was extremely frustrating.”
The agreement reached in April 2015 set local hiring goals of 40% and a separate goal of 10% for disadvantaged workers which included veterans and those living below 70% of the lower living standard income level. The goals were based on total hours worked for a given project.
The agreement applied to projects over $500,000 that were subject to state and federal funding restrictions like the demolition of the old courthouse and the $65 million improvement project at Long Beach Airport.
In total, 25 projects have either been completed, are in progress or are out to bid under the current project labor agreement that expires next year. Those projects represent nearly $150 million in construction value according to city documents.
In the update presented to the council Tuesday, city staff said the agreement had exceeded those goals with local hires accounting for 77% of work hours and disadvantaged workers accounting for 12%.
The definition of local includes three tiers of workers with Long Beach workers being the first tier and workers from gateway cities being the second and Los Angeles/Orange County representing the third tier. City officials noted multiple times that there were no requirements for how many workers from each tier needed to be included to meet the labor agreement’s target.
However, a coalition of community groups that have taken issue with the city’s designation of “local hire” was in attendance to request changes be made to ensure more Long Beach residents are hired for Long Beach projects.
In a letter to the mayor and City Council the coalition, which includes the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, United Cambodian Community and Long Beach Forward, noted that while the city’s local hire target had been attained, only 19% of those hours were worked by Long Beach residents. It was the lowest percentage of any of the three hiring tiers in the project labor agreement.
Elsa Tung, a research and policy analyst with Long Beach Forward, said that the coalition supports the project labor agreement and the city’s pronouncement to try and boost Long Beach hiring for future projects.
But Tung added that requiring an independent jobs coordinator for each project, changing he definition of disadvantaged workers, reporting hiring figures by city to improve transparency and augmenting the way in which it currently holds contractors accountable to the agreement could strengthen the agreement.
“Out of 20 complete and active PLA [project labor agreement] projects only two have met the Long Beach local promise and only five have met the disadvantaged promise,” Tung said. “That translates to a 10% success rate for local and 25% success rate for disadvantaged. As a city we can do better.”
That the council voted to bring back new information on local hire and disadvantaged workers and how the agreement could be improved to ensure that more Long Beach residents are benefiting from future projects was a positive sign for coalition members.
Susanne Browne, a senior attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said the the coalition sees Tuesday’s vote as progress on local and disadvantaged hiring and it’s looking forward to the item coming back to the council in the near future with the hopes that changes can be worked into the agreement before it’s renegotiated some time next year.
“Our hope is that it happens as soon as possible and we heard the sentiment of the council that they wanted it rapidly as well,” Browne said. “Our sense was that they understand that there’s urgency and they don’t want a year to go by before we see improvements.”