Unemployed construction workers protested outside UC Mission Bay’s Hospital building for the third day straight—but by early afternoon seemed to have got some clarification from UC officials over upcoming job opportunties at the site.
At issue is the tension between UCSF’s stated desire to be a good neighbor and put local residents to work, and the reality that while unemployment remains high throughout the construction industry, the communities immediately neighboring UC's Mission Bay campus have been hard hit.
.“I want them to set up a system where we have a referral mechanism that includes CityBuild, and for UC to discontinue using DPR’s subcontractor Cambridge and other consultants," James Richards, President of Aboriginal Blackmen United (ABU), said shortly before he met with UC officials. “Because if you don’t have a community-based organization helping UC make good on its commitment to be a good neighbor, then you are going to see stuff like UC’s voluntary local hire system. The idea that you can have a voluntary system without someone like ABU, which organizes folks from the community, is why this system is going to fail. And it’s why we only see token folks on the site. Because if you don’t work with the community, you won’t get the community to work. Really it’s an easy proposition: you have unemployed union workers at the gate. So put them to work.”
Just then Dwayne Jones, who worked in the Mayor’s Office when Gavin Newsom occupied Room 200, stopped by to chat with Richards and the ABU crew.
Jones, who is now with Platinum Advisors, told the Guardian that he works as consultant for DPR Construction, UC’s prime contractor at Mission Bay. Fortune recently ranked DPR number 22 in its list of Top 100 companies to work for in the U. S.
Jones noted that his work with DPR had nothing to do with ABU’s local hire protest. “I’m only involved because I have worked with all these folks in the past and know all the players," Jones said. "So, I’m helping these folks. At the end of the day, DPR’s concerns and mine are the same: I want to facilitate a process that maximizes opportunities for local folks.”
“These are all great people,” Jones continued. “I’ve worked for them for 15 years.”
Asked what the city can do to get the state-owned UC to hire more folks from economically disadvantaged communities on a project that isn’t financed by city funds, Jones said, “I agree that there is little leverage that the city has, given the constraints of the contract, so people need to be creative.”
Jones said he was not aware that Dr.Arelious Walker and the San Francisco Workforce Collaborative has issued a flier stating that they were gathering lists of names to be submitted to UC for jobs, amove that angered ABU members since they have been protesting for jobs at the site for over a year
“I was not aware of this group but there are a multitude of organizations trying to do good work,” Jones said. “And frankly this [multitude] was one of the things that led to the end of the lead agency methodology, because it caused so much division in the community. I hope we build a really strong coalition in the community that leverages its strengths.”
Jones gave UCSF credit for trying to move the local hire process forward
“I’m glad that they accepted the initial recommendation to do whatever they can to mirror the city’s local hire legislation,” he said. “Because although it’s voluntary, if it’s part of your culture and you embrace it, it’ll get done. And these are the people who have been out here for a year.”
Last December, the Board approved local hire legislation for city-funded projects. Mayor Gavin Newsom did not sign the legislation, which met stiff opposition from the building trades, and it's fallen to Mayor Ed Lee to mplement this new law, which does not apply to state agencies,but had led to a parallel dialogue with UC.
"Much like any policy, implementation is the biggest challenge," Jones observed. And until we do some inventory of which organizations, contractors, individuals and groups can do each piece of the work, it’s going to be a struggle. What I’m praying for is that local hire legislation allows us to get a bigger table. What I’m interested in doing is creating a pipeline of qualified workers, so that whenever something like this happens, I don’t have to hear the excuse that folks aren’t ready to work.”
Then Richards took off for a meeting with UC Vice Chancellor Barbara French that lasted two hours during which time rumors started circulated that Mayor Ed Lee had called French to try and help move the conversation along, as ABU members continued their protest and shared stories with reporters of how they came to be standing on a picket line in Mission Bay.
One worker, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he was frustrated by UCSF’s plea for workers to remain patient because jobs are coming soon. “We’ve been out here for one and a half years, so since before they did their demolition, and they have been playing games with us,” he said. “ Folks with ABU were promised jobs. But then they didn’t get anything. That’s what UC does. They try to pacify you and tell you stories, then the money gets taken out of the community, and another year goes by. So, if anybody says, why aren’t you more patient, the answer is that the whole area has been built with only a handful of people from our community. Especially now, when no one has jobs, and everybody wants to work here. We are not going into other communities and trying to steal their jobs. We just want to work here. But we could be protesting every day, until this whole stuff has been built. It’s a city within a city. Just look around you. We was patient. And all this stuff has been built and we got no jobs.”
Michelle Carrington, 58, a flagger and an operating engineer from the Bayview, said Dwayne Jones helped her graduate from Young Community Developers. “He got me in tears, he dropped me in the mud at 5 in the morning and made me do push ups, but I fought and kept on and graduated at the top of my class out of three women and 15 men,” she said. "But now we got people going behind the gate, folks who used to work for Dwayne Jones, like Dr. Arelious Walker, who are trying to say that they are the ones who have got the sign-up list for jobs here. But you ain’t been here marching, or down at City Hall fighting for local hire. And I saw Rodney Hampton Jr. on the number 54 bus, and I let him have it. I said, what’s this I heard about you and Walker? And he said he went to UCSF and tried to get a bid but was told ABU had it. So the only way to get in was for him and Marcellus Prentice to go to God’s house. But Walker’s not out here. Meanwhile, we see folks coming from Hayward, Sacramento and Vallejo and working on this yard. Why is it such a hard decision to try and put us to work? It’s easy. Just take 5 or 10 of us, put us to work, and we will go away. Work smarter, not harder.
Laborer Sharon Brewer, who was born and raised in the Bayview and has been out of work for two years. She helped her granddaughter, Akira Armstrong, hold a protest sign and talked about losing her apartment because she lost her job.
“I had to move back in with my daughter because nobody lets you live for free,” she said. “I used to work for UCSF as a patient coordinator for physical therapy but I got laid off. Now I have to dummy down my resume to try and get a job making $8 an hour selling coffee and donuts ."
Jesse Holford said he had reached the fourth level of his apprenticeship as a Carpenter.
‘There are eight levels between an apprentice and a journeyman,” he said.
Jason Young and Alonzo McClanahan said they were unemployed laborers from Bayview Hunters Point resident. Robert English, a carpenter journeyman from the Bayview, had been out of work 6 months. Tina Howards, a carpenter’s apprentice from the Bayview with four kids, had been out of work for a year. And Keith Williams, a carpenter from the Bayview, had been out of work for nine months.
Fred Green, who has lived in the Bayview for 50 years and has five kids, said protesters were trying to remain as peaceful as possible.
"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. I got five kids and they all go hungry.”
Bayview resident Carlos Rodriguez has three kids and has been out of work for two years.
“They called me to work before Christmas but never hired me, “ he said.
Bayview resident Truenetta Webb has two kids and has been out of work for four months.
‘Some guys called me and took my information, but there’s been no work,” she said.
Troy Moor, who has lived in the Bayview for 47 years and has two kids, worked in January on Lennar’s shipyard development for 17 days.
“Two weeks ago, UC said they were going to hire four folks on ABU’s list, but they didn’t,” he said. “We don’t want it to get ugly out here. All we want to do is feed our families.”
Moor said he believes Mayor Ed Lee will ensure local hire is implemented on city-funded projects. “Ed don’t want no problem, we know him personally, we used to work for him when he was at DPW (the city’s Department of Public Works),” he said. “He’s a decent guy, as long as you keep the pressure on him.”
Moor speculated that if ABU blocked both gates to the UC Mission Bay hospital project, it would cost UC thousands of dollars.“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.
Ed Albert, a retired painter and a Bayview resident for 57 years, said he was protesting for folks in his community.
“I grew up in the Bayview, I’m a servant of the Bayview,” he said. “I went from paperboy to contractor. I was a painter for Redevelopment and the San Francisco Housing Authority. But I don’t want a job. Who’d hire a 67-year-old guy with one eye? But I want to see my people get a job.”
James Amerson, a laborer with Local 261, said he worked on the Transbay Terminal in July, then got transferred to Pier 17.
“But when that was over, they didn’t bring me back to the Transbay, so I’ve been out of work since the end of December,” Amerson said. “They sent me to the Transbay as a flagger, and I rode by the other day, and saw they had an apprentice operator doing flagging."
"When we are not working, we always come back to James [Richards]’s church at Double Rock,” he continued. “We meet at 9 a.m., Monday through Thursday. James is sick with diabetes. But he ain’t asking for anything. He’s here for the people, coming out here, buying food every day. We feed everybody. Yesterday he was feeding the police officers.”
Finally, Richards emerged from his meeting with UC officials. After he crossed 16th Street slowly, Richards was encouraged take a swig of orange juice from the back of ABU's flatbed truck before giving folks an update.
“When DPR needs someone for a job, they’re gonna call Dwayne Jones, and then Dwayne will let us know,” Richards finally said. "There’s enough work for everybody. There’s hundreds of jobs, but I don’t know if they are in every trade. So, I feel good. But not so good that I can say that ten carpenters will be hired tomorrow. There’s not enough need for that, right now. But the work that’s there, when they call, you’re going to know it. Laborers, there are going to be no others going first. You guys are going first. So, I suppose next week, more laborers should be going, then more carpenters.”
Asked if ABU was going to continue its protest, Richards ‘said he thought folks needed to regroup.
"I think we got enough to not have to come out here tomorrow again. So, we’ll come back to church on Monday and let everyone know what happened. Then we’ll make a decision about what we are going to do. If the majority says, fuck this man, make ‘em hire 10 or 20 more folks, then that’s what we’ll do. But for now, we gotta regroup.”
Reached by phone, as ABU members prepared to pack up for the day, Cindy Lima, executive director of UC Mission Bay Hospitals Project, said she felt UC’s meeting with Richards was positive
“We clarified some misunderstandings and made some progress," Lima said. "Our goal is still to create jobs for San Francisco residents and make this project happen. So, we are continuing to try and match people who need to go to work with available job opportunities. The bottom line is that there are a lot of people in this city who are out of work and a lot of groups with different intentions in mind and we get tangled in that process. So, maybe we need to have more dialogue about when jobs will become available. And we have made a commitment to talk more.”