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. Arelious Walker's BayView Hope Community Development Corporation, feeling as if the UC was trying to divide their community. Walker did not return our calls for comment.
"We 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," 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. If the community doesn't work, no one works."
But even as UC announced its voluntary Mission Bay goals, community advocates pressed UCSF to set higher targets, citing the city's failure to attain 50 percent local hire goals under San Francisco's decade-long policy of seeking to hit that goal.
Joshua Arce of the Brightline Defense Project said he is glad Lee expressed support for Sup. John Avalos' local hire legislation, "but we are waiting to see if he implements the law as written or a watered-down version."
Then-Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed Avalos' legislation to become law without signing it, bowing to the veto-proof 8-3 majority that approved it. But in a 12/23/10 letter explaining his position, Newsom recommended modifications to accommodate the concerns of the building trades, whose members come from across the Bay Area.
"I know the passage of this policy has created high expectations among some residents of San Francisco," Newsom wrote. "The city owes it to them to implement this policy in a way that will result in a successful program that is fiscally responsible and reflects the best thinking of the many stakeholders invested in San Francisco."
But with Newsom moving to Sacramento, California Assembly member Tom Ammiano and Sens. Mark Leno and Leland Yee are urging legislators to support San Francisco's newly approved local hire law as approved.
In a Jan. 25 letter that Leno and Yee signed, Ammiano encouraged Bay Area officials to work with the city to explore mutually beneficial "reciprocity agreements" in which local cities would support one another's programs "aimed at providing disadvantaged job seekers opportunities in the construction sector."
"In neighborhoods like the Bayview, the Mission, and the Western Addition, the promise of jobs — particularly living wage construction jobs — has been an unfulfilled promise for generations," Ammiano wrote.
But in a Jan. 28 press release, UC officials clarified that "as one of 10 campuses of a statewide constitutional corporation and public trust," UCSF is not subject to Avalos' mandatory requirement and is prohibited from adopting mandatory requirements based upon residency.
Instead, UC promised to do more community outreach and try to carve out financial incentives to encourage contractors to hit UC's targets at Mission Bay.
Lima said the hospital complex is a historic opportunity to put as many San Franciscans to work as possible. "We have set an ambitious hiring target but we recognize that the economic activity generated by the project can significantly benefit our neighbors and local residents," she said
After his Jan. 27 meeting with UC, Richards told ABU members that "when DPR needs someone for a job, they're gonna call Dwayne Jones, and then Dwayne will let us know. There are 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 10 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."
Lima said UC's meeting with Richards was "positive".
"We clarified some misunderstandings and made some progress," Lima said, noting that work at the site will become increasingly available starting in May. "Our goal is still to create jobs for San Francisco residents and make this project happen. 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."
Lima vowed to work closely with DPR Construction and major subcontractors to ensure qualified local residents — including those from neighborhoods closest to the site — can access the construction jobs. And she promised that results will be reported regularly and the size of the workforce will increase steadily, peaking with 1,000 workers in 2012.
"We are mindful that while these goals challenge us, they are also within reach," Lima said, noting that UCSF has been engaged in creating job opportunities in the construction trades for San Franciscans since 1993. "Our success will depend on the participation and commitment of the broader community and the trade unions."
UC's move comes less than two weeks after Lee announced at the annual San Francisco Labor Council Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast that one of his top priorities is implementing Avalos' mandatory local hire policy.
Lee's comments suggest a different approach from Newsom's, but it's still not clear whether Lee intends to follow the "critical steps" that Newsom felt the city should take "to ensure the responsible and successful implementation of Avalos' legislation."
Arce said he was happy to see Lee address the issue at the MLK Day event. "Lee said that if we are using local dollars to create local jobs, those jobs should go to local workers," Arce recalled, noting that the following week Lee started to coordinate with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and CityBuild to engage community stakeholders and lay out a road map to implement Avalos' legislation.
"They set a deadline of March 25 as the target date by which the language of Avalos' mandatory legislation must be included in all public bids and contracts," Arce said. "And it's our understanding that Mayor Lee called UC Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann directly on the morning of Jan. 27 [before ABU's Richards met with UC officials] to ask that UCSF formalize a community hiring plan for Mission Bay as soon as possible."
Avalos said he was "very encouraged" by Lee's remarks. "To say that at the Martin Luther King Labor Breakfast was a big deal," Avalos said, noting that the building trades were also in the room. "I feel Ed Lee wants to implement the legislation how it is written. He needs help doing that. He needs to create a process to make it happen, and I believe the folks who helped draft the legislation will be ready to do that. That's not to say that this couldn't go wrong, but I feel pretty confident that he will implement as strong a local hire model as possible."