Division of labor

As Mayor Lee supports mandatory local hire law, UC Mission Bay finally announces voluntary goals

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Workers with Aboriginal Blackmen United protest outside UCSF's hospital construction site
PHOTO BY SARAH PHELAN

sarah@sfbg.com

In the wake of a three-day protest by unemployed workers outside UCSF's Mission Bay hospital construction site — and under pressure from city leaders — UC officials have announced voluntary local hiring targets at the $1.5 billion complex.

Targets start at hiring 20 percent of the project's workers in San Francisco during 2011 and increase that by 5 percent each year until the hospital complex is completed, UCSF news director Amy Pyle told us. But she denies that UC was pressured into its decision. UC is a state agency that is exempt from local rules when it builds facilities for UCSF and other campuses.

"Our voluntary goals are not a result of their protest," Pyle insisted. "We have been aware of the local hire concerns since before they were protesting."

The protests have focused on the need to hire workers for southeast San Francisco, where unemployment rates are the highest in the city, particularly among the city's African American population.

"Of course we are looking to be good neighbors and hire people from an area we know has been hard hit," Pyle said, clarifying that under the University of California's hiring program, "local residents mean people who live in San Francisco generally."

Mission Bay Hospitals Projects executive director Cindy Lima said uproar at the site stemmed in part from perceptions that lots of work is available now, but she said that isn't true.

"Job opportunities should ramp up in May, but right now, they are installing structural piles," Lima said. "So if there is an opportunity for a carpenter or a laborer to get decks built, we call the union." UC's voluntary local hire announcement came after Mayor Ed Lee urged UC officials to formalize a community hiring plan for Mission Bay, and Aboriginal Blackmen United (ABU) president James Richards agreed to call off his group's protest outside UC's Mission Bay hospital complex, at least for now.

ABU member Fred Green, an unemployed construction worker who has lived in the Bayview for 50 years and has five children, said the protesters tried to remain peaceful. "But an empty belly makes you do strange things," Green said. "If there's enough work for everybody, why should we be stuck at home while someone comes into my community and takes food out of my kids' mouths?"

Troy Moor, who has lived in the Bayview for 47 years and has two kids, speculated that if ABU blocked both gates to the project, it would cost UC thousands of dollars a day in lost productivity. "Here at the front gates, we are visible. But we figure that if by next week, nothing is happening, we'll start making them lose money," he said.

Michelle Carrington is a 58-year-old flagger and operating engineer from the Bayview who has been unemployed for 10 years. She said Dwayne Jones, who worked in the Mayor's Office and helped her graduate from Young Community Developers, was "working to try and get us jobs."

Jones, who is now with Platinum Advisors as a consultant to DPR Construction, UC's prime contractor at its Mission Bay site, put in an appearance on day three of ABU's protest. But he said his work with DPR had nothing to do with the ABU protest.

"UC is very committed to maximizing local hire where we can," Lima told the Guardian. "It's unfortunate there is a protest because it gives the sense we haven't been working with the community when in fact we have been working with the Mayor's Office, CityBuild, and every stakeholder interested in this project, including ABU."

Richards said ABU mounted its protest to challenge UC's claims that it has hired more local residents at the site. They were also angry over a flyer that encouraged residents interested in working at the site to sign up with the San Francisco Workforce Collaborative, in partnership with Rev.