The New Orleans City Council on Thursday unanimously approved rules governing Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s local hiring ordinance, despite vehement protest from labor activists.
A leading contractors’ association, however, said it was pleased with the rules, though few contractors showed up at the meeting to laud them.
The HireNOLA ordinance, which the council approved in October, will require businesses in 2016 to make a “good faith effort” to funnel 30 percent of all work hours on applicable city contracts to New Orleans residents and 10 percent of such hours to “disadvantaged local workers,” defined as local residents with incomes equal to or less than half of the New Orleans-area median income, plus those who face other employment obstacles.
Those goals will increase by 5 percent each year until 2020, with the ultimate goal of sending at least half of the work hours to locals and 30 percent to disadvantaged locals.
The rules spelling out how the city will enforce that ordinance, first unveiled at a public hearing last week, outline what constitutes a good faith effort, ways the city will track contractors’ progress, consequences when goals aren’t met and how data will be publicized, among other things.
After that hearing and ahead of the council meeting, Landrieu staffers tweaked the regulations to address contractors’ desire to keep unions out and activists’ desire to keep the community in: They softened language about using local union halls to help with hiring and proposed an annual review that would include a “community workforce committee” to help the city monitor contract compliance.
The changes weren’t enough for the organizing group Stand With Dignity and its supporters, who said the rules are too lenient on contractors.
“If I was a citizen and I committed a crime on the street, they don’t say that I ‘may’ go to jail. They say I ‘will’ go to jail,” said LaToya Lewis, referencing the policy’s use of the word “may” instead of “will” or “shall” in some language about noncompliance consequences. Several others present offered similar sentiments.
In a letter to council members, the workers’ group also called on the city to set up interviews between local workers and contractors and urged stricter language about the use of registered apprenticeship programs.
But Ashleigh Gardere, Landrieu’s senior adviser for economic opportunity, said the intent behind the language about consequences was to ensure the policy would hold up in court.
“We cannot require the participation goals. They are good-faith-effort-based,” Gardere said.
The city can, however, require contractors to use its “first-source” database, a list of local and disadvantaged local workers available for work, she said. And it’s not as if there are no consequences, she said, explaining that continued noncompliance could be deemed to constitute a material breach of contract, which could lead to a contract termination.
In response to contractors’ concerns about whether city-vetted workers would be knowledgeable enough for successful employment, Gardere pointed to the city’s job training programs.
Council members LaToya Cantrell and Susan Guidry at first seemed poised to support changes sought by the activists, but Gardere assuaged some concerns by noting a requirement that contractors must submit workforce rosters and payroll records. She also cited a plan to review the rules in a year.
Andre Kelly of the Louisiana Associated General Contractors, a day ahead of the vote, said Gardere’s team had worked hard to address his group’s issues.
“I would say the contracting community is very excited about the work that the city is going to be putting out,” Kelly said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.