This Saturday, at 11 a.m. at Columbia City's Southside Commons Auditorium, a small social justice coalition will launch a bold campaign to change construction hiring practices in Seattle by proposing legislation mandating that publicly-contracted construction projects hire from the neighborhoods in which they build.
"We've all heard the slogan 'Work where you live,'" says Michael Woo, director of a group called Got Green. "But what if there aren't any good jobs where you live? This is exactly the point of Targeted Local Hire. To bring good, local jobs to our neighborhoods."
Got Green was founded in 2008 to advocate on behalf of low-income communities and people of color in South Seattle through a focus on environmentalism—green jobs, healthy food, energy efficiency, and access to public transit. "We just felt like if communities of color weren’t organizing around those conversations, any outcomes would leave us behind," Woo explains.
He continues: "The commercial construction industry is a place where public contracting can create opportunity." But the communities Got Green represents feel like they're watching the economy slowly chug to life without them.
Take the repaving of Rainier Avenue a couple of years ago, or the rebuild of the Rainier Beach Community Center. "The Rainier Beach neighborhood is in desperate need of some help," Woo says. But the neighborhood watched the contracts for those projects go to companies that hired workers from outside Seattle. And he argues, "That’s not a good investment for the city."
They've started imagining a local-hire ordinance that would require public-contract construction jobs in Seattle to hire a certain percentage of their workers directly from the community. And at least two city council members, Mike O'Brien and Sally Clark, have publicly signaled support for the idea.
"Local hire is an environmental issue. It reduces commutes and improves urban sustainability," says O'Brien. "I see it as an opportunity to promote a solution to climate change and job equity at the same time."
Clark seems intrigued as well, saying in her most recent newsletter that the economic development committee she chairs will be "diving into the subject of local hire this year." I haven't yet heard back from the third council member rumored to be a local-hire fan, Nick Licata.
Seattle's not the first city to consider a measure like this—San Francisco passed its local-hire ordinance a couple of years ago. That program is widely considered a success, and the city's even talking about expanding it from construction to tech jobs.
But that doesn't mean the road to passing legislation will be easy. Unions opposed the local hire measure in San Francisco because it conflicts with their hiring practices. Others opposed it for being an unnecessary burden on business, or because of the cost the city incurs overseeing such a program. We may very well see similar opposition here.
The Construction Jobs Equity Coalition, which includes Got Green, hopes to make their case to the public and to politicians at the event on Saturday, which they're calling a "community jobs forum." More info on the forum here.