State legislator seeking to overturn New Orleans requirements for local hiring _lowres

Senator Conrad Appel

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s new local hiring rules for city contractors, which are aimed at getting more New Orleanians — especially those with low incomes — into the workforce, have irked at least one state lawmaker, who says they are unfair and contradict state law.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, filed a bill recently that would quash such local hiring preferences in New Orleans and elsewhere in the state.

At Appel’s request, state Attorney General Jeff Landry also came out against the city’s formal hiring preferences in an opinion released this month, calling them a violation of the state’s public bid laws.

Appel said he would push ahead with the bill anyway, noting that Landry’s opinion does not have the force of law.

“To me, this is just government sticking its nose into private businesses’ affairs,” he said.

The hiring rules in question were introduced as another step in reducing a city unemployment rate that is often blamed for the prevalence of violent crime.

The rules require businesses with applicable city contracts to make “good faith efforts” to award 30 percent of working hours to Orleans Parish residents and 10 percent of the hours to “disadvantaged local” employees. Those goals will increase by 5 percent each year until 2020. The companies also must check first with the city’s Office of Workforce Development to find new hires.

Applicable contracts are those in excess of $150,000 that involve construction, alteration or demolition of public buildings or public works. Also included are cooperative endeavor agreements between the city and parties receiving tax incentives for economic development projects valued at more than $150,000.

Disadvantaged local workers are defined as Orleans Parish residents making no more 50 percent of the New Orleans-area median income, or those who face other employment obstacles, such as homelessness, prior arrests or convictions.

Businesses that don’t abide by the rules could have their contracts terminated or be barred from bidding on future jobs.

Some labor union activists called the rules too lax, while contractors said they were unworkable. City officials insisted the rules were legally defensible.

Landry’s office, however, said the rules “would be impermissible” under state bid laws that require contracts go to the lowest bidder. “Louisiana courts have recognized that Louisiana’s Public Bid Law is sui generis, and a political entity has no authority to take any action which is inconsistent with the Public Bid Law,” the opinion from the Attorney General’s Office said.

Further, it said, the city’s rules are inapplicable to federally funded projects, as federal laws ban similar preferences in the evaluation of bids or proposals.

Contractors had raised that concern before the ordinance passed, noting that much of the city’s work is federally financed. The city has said it would evaluate those projects on a case-by-case basis.

Appel, who runs a construction business, said his objections are rooted in his distaste for attempts to tell private contractors how to run their businesses. And he said it’s unfair to discriminate against employees from other parishes.

He added, “You can’t force people into jobs when they are not suited for a job or educated for a job.”

Appel’s Senate Bill 288 would declare “null and void” any ordinance mandating local or other preferential hiring requirements not otherwise provided by state law.

His own construction firm, Construction South of Metairie, services private companies and has no contracts with the city, he said. He said he was approached by industry professionals who took issue with Landrieu’s proposals.

The Mayor’s Office said it stands by the new rules.

“The city of New Orleans is fully committed to preparing and connecting our local job-seekers to work,” press secretary Hayne Rainey said.

“We disagree with the attorney general’s opinion and are disappointed by any efforts to limit employment opportunities for local workers. The people of New Orleans will rebuild New Orleans,” he said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.