New rules up for City Council consideration Thursday address many of the concerns raised by contractors who last week said the policy laid out in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s local hiring ordinance is too restrictive.
Less pleased with the proposed rules are labor activists, who — even though the city agreed to some of their suggestions — argue the tweaked rules for the HireNOLA program don’t do enough to hold contractors accountable.
The 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 governing that ordinance, which were 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.
At the hearing, contractors said the proposal was too strict while labor activists said it wasn’t strict enough.
Those on either side of the issue said Wednesday that city officials sat down with them after that hearing and listened to their concerns. Some concessions were made, said Andre Kelly of the Louisiana Associated General Contractors.
“They added some language that made each example of ‘good faith efforts’ less mandated and more contract-specific,” Kelly said. A form that bidders will be expected to fill out clarifies that contractors are not mandated to complete all seven examples of good faith efforts listed in the rules, he said.
Of particular concern to Kelly and others was a clause seemingly requiring contractors to “advertise vacancies at local union halls,” should they fail to hire workers included in a city-vetted database.
For non-unionized businesses, that posed a problem. In a change from the original, rules posted on the City Council’s website this week say that a good faith effort includes “advertising vacancies at local union/hiring halls of registered apprenticeship programs, if applicable.”
Making union involvement more of an option “softened that blow greatly,” Kelly said.
As for concern about the city’s definition of a “qualified worker” — some contractors fretted over how the city would vet the qualifications of workers included in a database that contractors are required to use — Kelly said the city assured contractors that workers would be as qualified as possible.
“I would say the contracting community is very excited about the work that the city is going to be putting out,” Kelly said.
Labor activists are not as thrilled. The activist group Stand With Dignity is organizing a rally at City Hall on Thursday, urging council members to incorporate their proposed language in the city’s rules. Of particular concern is the use of the word “may” instead of “shall” in language about consequences if contractors fail to meet the goals.
“I think we should have some real language that actually works,” activist LaToya Lewis said.
She also said the city should be setting up interviews between local workers and contractors — instead of merely providing a database of local workers for contractors to use — and that a newly modified definition of “good faith effort,” which asks contractors to use registered apprenticeship programs at a ratio of one apprentice to three journeymen “if applicable and available,” should remove the “applicable and available” language.
Landrieu staffers did include some Stand With Dignity suggestions in the proposed rules, Lewis added. Those include the added language on the apprentice-to-journeymen ratio; an annual policy review considering, notably, whether there are enough qualified but unemployed local workers to meet the hiring goals; and the creation of a “community workforce committee” that would help the city monitor contract compliance.
The changed rules are listed on the council’s Thursday consent agenda. The council also plans to consider them on its regular agenda.
Correction: A previously posted version of this story said the council had only listed the rules on its consent agenda.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.