The City of Long Beach will start the process of renegotiating its citywide project labor agreement, a deal that currently applies to all city-funded projects over $500,000, after the City Council directed city staff to start work on a deal Tuesday night.

The directive was presented by Mayor Robert Garcia and four members of the City Council and requested that the city managers office begin negotiations to extend the agreement and to work future street improvement projects into the PLA as the city continues to make numerous street improvements through funding secured by Measure A.

The agreement reached in 2015 applied to all city-funded projects valued over $500,000 and included a local hire element that identified hiring goals for workers who live within the city. It set a 40% local hire goal and a separate 10% hire goal for disadvantaged workers that included veterans and those living below 70% of the lower living standard income level.

Projects either completed or under construction under the current contract include the demolition of the old county courthouse and the construction of the Alamitos Beach concessions stands and the new Houghton Park Community Center.

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“This whole council deserves credit for establishing what is viewed as today as a model citywide project labor agreement across the state of California,” Garcia said. “When other cities are looking to put together project labor agreements they look to Long Beach for the way we have modeled ours.”

However, the term “local” was extended to include all of Los Angeles and Orange Counties and was divided into three tiers, all of which would allow the city to meet its local hiring goals. Tier 1 includes zip codes in Long Beach, Tier 2 includes gateway cities and Tier 3 encompasses the two counties and Tiers 1 and 2.

Whether or not the city is meeting its stated goals has become a point of contention between the city and community groups which are pushing for stronger enforcement of the local hire provisions.

The city’s claims that it has met its local hiring goals has been a subject of disagreement from labor and community groups who argue that though the city has hit hiring targets as defined by the three tiers, it has failed to hire enough Long Beach residents on jobs completed in the city over the past four years.

A letter sent to the council by the Long Beach Local Hire Coalition called on the council to include language that includes inclusion of an independent jobs coordinator and for it to use Los Angeles Metro’s definitions for disadvantaged workers and to better track hours worked by residents from each city and to potentially fine employers who fail to meet local hire standards.

“The Long Beach Local Hire Coalition appreciates the city’s commitment to local and disadvantaged hiring,” the letter says. “The best way to achieve this goal is to utilize proven best practices that will create an inclusive local economy that our city’s residents need and deserve.”

In June, the City Council voted to approve a pilot program where an independent jobs coordinator would work on projects under $10 million carried out during the last few months of the current agreement. There are two projects that fall into that category and the cost for implementing the program has been estimated to cost about $20,000, or one percent of the total project costs.

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Acting City Manager Tom Modica said that while the language in Tuesday’s motion did not mention an independent jobs coordinator, June’s motion did, and city staff was treating them as two separate issues that would ultimately factor into the new negotiations.

Modica said that the roughly six months of data taken from the pilot program would help inform the threshold at which a jobs coordinator would be utilized for future projects. The new project labor agreement is expected to be brought back to the City Council for a vote in Spring 2020.

Susanne Browne, a senior attorney with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles which is a member of the coalition, said that while the mayor did cite the discussion from June during Tuesday night’s meeting, the group remains concerned that it wasn’t included in the motion approved by the council.

“If it’s not in the motion it’s not legally binding,” Browne said. “From our perspective, we wanted to get our points out there before the vote because we know that once the negotiations start it’s all behind closed doors and there are no entry points.”

A separate letter sent by the Long Beach Ministers Alliance, an entity that has partnered with the city to recruit local workers for jobs that fall under the current project labor agreement, reinforced the concerns of the local hire coalition. The letter, dated September 3, called on the council to fix the current agreement before embarking on a new one and called into question the timing of the vote.

“The timing of Item #20 is deeply concerning and problematic because it is scheduled for Council consideration the day after a holiday weekend and on the night of the FY 20 Budget adoption –an anticipated very long night,” the letter said. “None of this bodes well for community input.”

Adoption of the 2020 fiscal year budget was not approved until early Wednesday morning and was preceded by a vote on the project labor agreement that happened just before midnight. No members of the public were present to comment on the item.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.