SF needs a local hire law

Local workers are more likely to spend their paychecks here in town


EDITORIAL A billion-dollar hospital project, built by a public agency using taxpayer dollars, just broke ground on the edge of District 10, the corner of the San Francisco with the highest unemployment rate and some of the city's worst economic problems. That's something job-hungry residents ought to be celebrating — more than 1,000 construction workers will be earning steady paychecks over the next few years.

And yet, when dignitaries including Rep. Nancy Pelosi showed up for the groundbreaking ceremony, they were met with protests. Bayview residents showed up to complain that very few of those jobs are going to the people who live in the project's neighborhood. In fact, not that many jobs are likely to go to San Francisco residents. That's because the University of California, San Francisco, which is building the hospital at Mission Bay, has no policy whatsoever requiring its contractors to hire local residents. As Sarah Phelan reports on page 11, San Francisco residents may turn out to make up fewer than 20 percent of the people who work on the project.

That's a problem for a significant number of local construction projects financed and managed by government agencies. A recent study released by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Office of Economic and Workforce Development found that only 20 percent of the workers on public works job sites in the city were San Francisco residents.

Obviously, private construction companies can hire anyone they want — but when San Francisco tax dollars and San Francisco public land are involved, local residents ought to get a fair share of the work. That's not just a political argument; it's solid economics. Just as money spent at a locally owned independent business stays in town and does more for the local economy than money sent at big chains, local workers are more likely to spend their paychecks here in town.

Sup. John Avalos has introduced a bill that would set a 50 percent requirement for local hiring on projects paid for by the city. It's a great idea, and needs strong support. There's resistance from the building trade unions, which is no surprise — the unions want to keep the seniority system in place and give jobs to the members who have been unemployed the longest, no matter where they live. And a significant percentage of the membership of the building trade unions live out of town.

May of the residents of low-income areas like Bayview lack the specific skills for unionized trade jobs. But with so many longtime members out of work, the unions don't want to add apprenticeship programs to train new workers for jobs that don't exist.

But there has to be room for compromise here. The building trades leaders need to understand that San Francisco taxpayers have every right to demand that when they finance public works projects, some of that money will stay in town. And Avalos isn't pushing for 100 percent local hire — nor is he trying to undermine the time-honored tradition of the union hiring hall.

The UC project is trickier. As a state agency, UC is exempt from local laws — and has a long history of defying San Francisco's efforts to hold it accountable. The Bayview activists aren't asking for 50 percent local hire — but they are demanding that the university adopt some sort of enforceable rules to ensure that some percentage of the jobs at the new hospital go to city residents. That's more than reasonable.

San Francisco's state legislative delegation ought to be in touch with the UCSF chancellor and send a clear message: This is a problem that needs to be resolved, now — and if it's not, legislation setting local hire goals for all UC projects ought to be on next year's agenda.