Former Mayor Michael Nutter created an Executive Order that set terms and conditions of employment to unions on city projects costing more than $5 million.
However, Mayor Jim Kenney is considering a broader labor agreement with the Philadelphia Building Trades Council for projects that could receive revenue from the sugary drink tax. And, city and labor leaders are eying how that new Project Labor Agreement (PLA) will deal with diversity and inclusion, as potentially hundreds of millions of dollars could go into the pipe line for improvements — dubbed “Rebuild” — to city recreation centers and parks.
“Historically, minorities have been underrepresented in the unions that receive work as a result of the PLA,” said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown in an email to The Tribune. “The PLA must be inclusive and represent the diverse workforce in Philadelphia. We want to ensure that if men and women are adversely affected by the PLA — at the very least, they have access to the jobs that will come from the contracting opportunities focused on the rebuild of our public buildings. This is potentially a $600 million dollar initiative. It behooves us to get this right.”
According to Kenney’s spokeswoman Lauren Hitt, a broader PLA would involve a $300 million investment in improved parks, rec centers and libraries.
Through negotiations would seek language that addresses the following: submission of each building trades’ membership demographics, pre-apprentice programs for the city’s high school students, development of an apprentice-ready program recruited by census tracts with the high levels of poverty and unemployment and community referral.
It would call for sustainable employment opportunities for workers from zip codes where “Rebuild” – the improvement and construction – projects occur, minimum hours worked by minority and female apprentices for each trade, minimum hours worked by minority and female journeymen for each trade on an individual project, recruitment of veterans through programs such as “Helmets to Hard Hats,” and returning citizens through recognized re-entry programs, Hitt said.
Council President Darrell Clarke and others on council have expressed concern with the current PLA, complaining that unions are not representative of people of color and women.
But Hitt said with changes made to the PLA, it should also contain sanctions and remedies for both union and contractor’s failures to meet the outlined goals.
“Since the PLA would only apply to large projects, we are also working to address the following issues which have traditionally held the city back from reaching it’s diversity goals,” Hitt said.
Harry C. Alfred, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce based in Washington, D.C., was particularly critical of Project Labor Agreements.
He said the PLA is discriminatory and leaves young Black men and women out of the loop who are in need of good, steady work.
“It’s about votes and corruption and getting money from the unions,” he said. “They sell out their constituents for the union money and union votes and then they talk about how unemployment is so bad.”
Hitt stated four specific goals include increased capacity of minority and women business enterprise firms to address insurance, bonding, cash flow, and mentoring and technical assistance; professional service, which would rebuild and develop a pre-qualified pool of pre-construction professionals with separate pools of architects, landscape architects and engineers; construction, with the PLA being negotiated may exempt smaller projects, allowing smaller jobs to move forward separate and apart from the PLA process and allowing smaller contractors to take part in Rebuild, and monitoring and enforcement; meaning to temporarily monitor Rebuild’s minority and female participate, the city would contract with an outside firm.
“Additionally, Rebuild will hire an individual solely dedicated to diversity and inclusion and a committee will be formed to monitor progress,” Hitt wrote. “The committee will include Council, various stakeholders and city representatives.”
Ryan Boyer, the business leader of the Laborers’ District Council of the Metropolitan Area of Philadelphia and Vicinity, believes the mayor truly wants to tweak the current PLA for it to become more inclusive.
“It’s not just the union problem, it’s the contracting problem,” Boyer said. “We have to have someone monitor that. If you put some money in the budget so they can increase their staff so that you can not only monitor, but put some enforcement mechanisms in place.”
For Reynolds Brown, who introduced a container tax, an alternative to Kenney’s initiative that would include a 15 cent flat rate to any reusable, sealed container, excluding milk and milk related projects, said minority and women owned businesses must be factored into the language of the new PLA and without doing so leaves no room for compromise.
When asked how do you get representation from the workforce if there is under-representation within unions, Reynolds Brown responded, “Key stakeholders must be at the table to craft an intentional sustained strategy with short-term and long-term goals. This initiative can be a game changer if done right.”