A New Orleans City Council committee on Tuesday unanimously endorsed a new policy that would connect local and disadvantaged workers with jobs generated by city contracts.
Councilman James Gray, who is sponsoring the measure at the request of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, said he will place the measure on the City Council’s regular agenda next week so it can receive additional public comment.
The Hire NOLA policy is part of the strategy of the city’s Network for Economic Opportunity, which was introduced last year partly as a way to chip away at the reported 52 percent unemployment rate among working-age African-American men in New Orleans.
It calls for businesses with city construction, alteration or demolition contracts worth more than $150,000 to turn first to the city’s Office of Workforce Development as a source for finding new hires. Those contractors also would be required to demonstrate “good-faith efforts” to hire local and disadvantaged workers.
The policy also would cover any cooperative endeavor agreement between the city and a party receiving tax incentives for economic development projects valued at more than $150,000.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that at least half of all work hours on city projects go to local workers and 30 percent of that half go to disadvantaged local workers. The city has set initial goals for the two categories of 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in 2016; the goals will increase by 5 percent each year until 2020.
The measure drew mostly praise from the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Economic Development and Special Development Projects Committee. Many of them represented groups, including community organizer Stand With Dignity, that collaborated with the city to write the policy.
Still, some advocates pushed for greater assurance that the policy would reach the disadvantaged workers it targets. Stand With Dignity organizer Colette Tippy proposed tweaking the policy to change the definition of disadvantaged local worker from someone who has a household income of less than 80 percent of the area median income to someone whose household income is less than 50 percent of the median.
“That’s a little closer to disadvantaged in New Orleans,” Tippy said. “We want to make sure that when we get this in place that we’ve got it right.”
Tippy and others, including Councilman Jared Brossett, also urged the administration to establish strict enforcement mechanisms.
The Office of Workforce Development will oversee contractor compliance and also serve as the source for employee recruitment, referral and placement services. The ordinance leaves it up to the office to set enforcement rules. Those rules also will need to be approved by the City Council.