Supervisors consider requiring contractors to do more local hiring just as the UC hospital breaks ground in Mission Bay
Patrick Mulligan, financial secretary of Carpenters Local 22, told the Guardian that his union, whose members are specific to San Francisco, generally supports local hiring. "But there are some general concerns with the legislation," said Mulligan, who has lived his whole life in San Francisco and got his first job through a local hiring program. "We have standing contractual agreements with contractors, so whatever legislation gets passed, it will have to be meshed with the existing situation. If these were boom times, people might see it differently. But it's hard times at the union hall."
Mulligan also lamented the lack of process for the community to vet whether UC has a local hiring plan at construction projects that impact their neighborhood. "But contractors want the best workforce they can get. And in lean times, they can afford to be more selective and don't necessarily want to include training time on the job," he said. "But we feel that it's inappropriate for contractors to bring their entire crew from outside of town."
Michael Theriault, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, told the Guardian that Avalos' legislation was unworkable because construction workers cannot afford housing in San Francisco and too few qualified workers live in the city.
"We take workers from San Francisco into our apprenticeship program constantly, but they get to a certain point in their careers and find that the city builds well on the low-end and the high-end, but doesn't build workforce housing. So they end up in Antioch, Vallejo, Fairfield, and Modesto, and commute back in," Theriault said. "That problem has not been addressed by the city, and it's at the root of why local hiring programs aren't working."
Newsom spokesperson Tony Winnicker said the mayor "supports stronger local hire requirements" even as he expressed concerns with Avalos' proposal. "We'll continue to work with the supervisors, the building trade unions and the community on legislation that achieves both realistic and legally enforceable local job guarantees for city projects," he said.
Winnicker noted that the city already supports local hiring through CityBuild and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. "But we believe we can do better," he added.
Avalos, whose legislation is scheduled for a Nov. 8 hearing of the board's Land Use and Economic Development Committee, said he sees his proposal as a starting point. "We'll see where it ends up," Avalos told the Guardian. "We could pass legislation that wants 50 percent local hiring next year, and it would probably get vetoed and it wouldn't be realistic. So we have to phase it in and make sure we are creating a system that is going to push the trades to be more inclusive of local residents."
Meanwhile, unemployed workers — some in unions, others not — continue to protest the lack of a local hire plan at UCSF's $1.5 billion Mission Bay hospital project, which is funded through debt financing, philanthropic gifts, and university reserves.
"We want to make sure folks get trained and everything that's necessary, so there is no dispute," Aboriginal Blacks United member Alex Prince said at an Oct. 27 protest at the Mission Bay site. The protest came one month after Newsom wrote to UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann noting that the hospital was breaking ground "just as continuing high unemployment rates were devastating the city's most distressed communities,including neighborhoods impacted by the Mission Bay expansion."