For the second day in a row, Aboriginal Blackmen United (ABU), a community organization that represents unemployed construction workers from Bayview Hunters Point, embarassed University of California officials by blocking the front gate of UC's $1.7 billion Mission Bay hospital project.
ABU members claim UCSF is refusing to hire workers from local neighborhoods and they say they are prepared to go to jail if their demands aren't met.
“At 6: 30 this morning, we were full of energy,” ABU President James Richards said on the first day of the protest. And ABU members recalled that they saw " nothing but skunks" when they arrived outside the construction site at 6 a.m.
“They’d locked up everything and guarded back fence, so we stopped everyone from coming in this front entrance, including management and cars,” Richards said, as he stood outside UC’s 16th Street and Fourth Street construction site, while ABU members chanted, "If we don't work, nobody works."
Richards said the police told employees to go around to the site’s back entrance, as they made calls, trying to figure out what was going on.
"We've been out here every day for almost a year and nothing has changed except the paperwork," Richards continued. "We have qualified union workers standing outside the job site that are ready, willing, and able to work and if the community doesn't work, no one works."
But UC officials say they want the Mission Bay Hospitals project to be a model for the nation of how to put people to work, even though, as a state agency, they cannot mandate local hire requirements or give preference to any particular domicile.
“UC is very committed to maximizing local hire where we can,” Cindy Lima, executive director of the Mission Bay Hospitals project, said. “It’s unfortunate that there is a protest because it gives the sense that 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 decided to mount their protest this week for two main reasons: to challenge UC’s claims that it has been hiring more local residents at the site, and to register anger over the distribution of a flier that encouraged local residents interested in working at the UC site and other construction projects in town to sign up with a group called the San Francisco Workforce Collaborative.
The flier, which fueled suspicions that UC is trying to divide the city’s disadvantaged communities, named Dr. Arelious Walker as President of BayView Hope Community Development Corporation.
“We at the San Francisco Workforce Collaborative partnered with BayView Hope CDC are currently doing sign-ups in ALL trades to afford you the opportunity to work on these projects,” the flier stated.
Richards was particularly outraged that Walker was calling his group “the San Francisco Workforce Collaborative," since this was the name UC used to describe its community outreach efforts last year.
"We guys were with Walker when he was fighting the Nation of Islam's attempt to stop development at the shipyard, so it hurts so bad to see this," he said, pointing to a copy of Walker's flier, which listed Jan. 25 and Jan. 27 as sign-up dates at Walker's Gilman Avenue building.
“All I know is that ABU is here for the long run and we’re prepared to go to jail,” Richards said. “Never again will we stand by and let people come into the southeast community and take our jobs. We’re going to fight until the end.”
“When Dwayne Jones was with the City, DPR [which is UC's construction contractor] was trying to notify him about requirements for job hire, and Jones was supposed to notify ABU for job placements, but now we find out that they have brought in another consultant,” Richards said, noting that Jones has left the city and now works for Platinum Advisors. "And now all of a sudden, UC hires this company and is giving this list to DPR?” Richards continued, noting that UC has hired a consultant called Marinus Lamprecht to handle job submissions at its hospital site, but no one from ABU had been hired, despite the fact that Richards submitted five names to UC, months ago.
“We’ve been demonstrating at this site and marching down the street, and UC was telling us at that time, we’re gonna put some of your folks to work," Richards said. " All I know is that ABU is working diligently to try and get our people hired. We want to be the first organization, not the only organization to have people work here. After demonstrating and protesting for over a year, we feel that the people who brought UC to the table and supported the city’s new local hire legislation have the right to work first. But it always seems that the powers-that-be go outside our community to cause division amongst the community.”
“We’ve been here since 6 a.m. today and this is the community,” Richards continued. “No so-called community leaders have joined forces with us, including pastors and political leaders. And that’s why we say, don’t nobody give a damn about us, but us.”
Reached by phone, UCSF’s news director Amy Pyle clarified that in recent weeks UC has committed to voluntary hiring goals at the site. The goals start at 20 percent, and increase 5 percent each year until the completion of the project in 2014, Pyle said.
This means UCSF’s voluntary local hiring plan was put together shortly after the Board of Supervisors approved Sup. John Avalos' mandatory local hire legislation for city-funded projects. Former Mayor Gavin Newsom refused to sign Avalos' legislation, leaving Mayor Ed Lee to figure out how to implement Avalos’ legislation, which mandates 20 percent local hire this year, increasing 5 percent each year until mandatory 50 percent goals are reached. And UCSF officials stress that, as a state agency, UC can’t have quotas and isn't subject to the city’s local hire mandates, since its hospital project is not city-funded. But they note that the university has set voluntary local hiring goals, held monthly meetings with stakeholders, and is currently working on carving out financial incentives to encourage contractors to achieve these voluntary goals.
“Our voluntary goals are not a result of their protest,” UCSF news director Pyle said. “We have been aware of the local hire concerns since before they were protesting. So, I don’t think people should expect there to be a quid pro quo.”
And Lima observed that UC has tried to maximize local hire on construction sites, since 1993. “It’s ranged from 7 to 24 percent, so the average has been about 12 percent," she said, stressing that a lot has changed in recent years, regarding UCSF, local hire, and the overall economy.
“For a start, this project is six times larger than anything we’ve done,” Lima said. “There’s been a shift in capacity of community groups. The city has centralized its actions, concerning local hire efforts. And now it’s advancing its local hire goals, and then there’s the economy.”
Lima said that it's because of this changed landscape that UCSF is ramping up its efforts to hire local residents.
“While we cannot mandate that our contractors hire locally, we are holding monthly meetings that are open to all community stakeholders,” she said. “We are doing extensive outreach to offer any stakeholders to submit names. We are keeping a list so as jobs become available. We are able to provide those names to unions for job call opportunities. And we have tried to carve out part of our payment to contractors to put it into an incentive program if they hit those goals.”
Lima said the final details of the incentive plan haven’t been worked out.
“But they are substantial,” she said.
She insisted that ABU did not succeed in completely shutting down UC Mission Bay Hospitals’ construction site in the last two days, and she claimed that if the goals of UCSF's voluntary local hire program are reached, UC will double its historical local hire average, eventually.
Lima pointed to UC Mission Bay’s website where minutes of a Jan. 13 meeting between UCSF and representatives for the local workforce are posted.
Those minutes show that UCSF has agreed to work with its Mission Bay construction contractor DPR “to ensure that qualified San Francisco residents have access to jobs, Lima said, and that names can be submitted to consultant Marinus Lamprecht, using submission forms available here.
UCSF also intends to prepare trade-by-trade name call opportunities and has promised to report on actual local hiring progress at monthly community workforce meetings to be held the second Thursday of each month, she said.
UCSF’s news director Amy Pyle clarified that under UC's voluntary local hire program, "local residents mean people who live in San Francisco generally."
"Of course we are looking to be good neighbors and hire people from an area we know has been hard hit," Pyle said.
Meanwhile, Lima said UC has not entered into any contract with BayView Hope CDC and requested a copy of Walker's flier to see if his group "overstepped.”
“For many years, UC did have a memorandum of understanding with the community and was working with a group called the San Francisco Workforce Collaborative,” Lima clarified. “The name has lasted, but the organization has changed. It was very successful historically, and there’s been an effort in the community to resurrect that group and make it stronger, but the landscape has changed, so we decided to open the doors to everybody.”
According to Lima, any interested party can now submit names to UC’s sign-up list.
“I carry that list around with me,” Lima said, promising folks will be hired in the order their names are received, if they match available opportunities.
“The contractors talk to the subcontractors who give them their best monthly estimates,” Lima said, noting that the subcontractors arrive with a core crew and then call the unions to fill their remaining needs.
Lima said part of the current uproar over local hire at UC Mission Bay's hospital site stems from the misperception that there are lots of jobs available now.
"Job opportunities should ramp up in May, but right now, they are installing 1,052 structural piles," she said. "So if there is an opportunity for a carpenter or a laborer to get decks built, we call the union.”
Lima added that folks are welcome to review data that UC’s compliance officer gathers.
‘It’s in our and the community’s best interest to put people to work,” she said.
But so far UCSF’s stance has continued to angered ABU members. They note that the university’s local hiring rates hovered at less than 10 percent until a series of ABU-led community protests in late 2010 forced UCSF and its contractor DPR to request voluntary reporting of worker residency.
And while UCSF claims that local employment is on the rise at the site, ABU questions the reliability of the university's self-reported performance at the site. As a result, ABU imembers continued to protest at the site Jan. 26, even as efforts appeared to be underway to address their concerns.
“Dr. Walker called us, he was apologetic,” ABU’s Ashley Rhodes told the Guardian Jan. 26, referring to BayView Hope CDC’s flier. “And the Mayor’s Office just called, saying they wanted to talk with James [Richards, ABU’s leader]. So, that's where he is right now. But tomorrow we may go to jail.”
Rhodes noted that on Jan. 26, DPR hired one carpenter from ABU’s list. “And a female receptionist is being interviewed, but we still have three out of five names we submitted last year to bring in," he said.
Outside UC's Mission Bay construction site , Michelle Carrington, a 58-year-old Hunters Point resident, continued her protest for a second day straight.
“I’ve been out of work for ten years,” Carrington said, noting that she has over a decade of construction experience as a flagger and an operating engineer.
“I graduated from YCD in 1999,” she said, referring to Young Community Developers. "Dwayne Jones trained me. He just left the Mayor’s Office and now he is working to help us get jobs.”