New Broward policy aims to help the “hard to hire”

April 8, 2014. The Sun Sentinel.

A controversial “Workforce Investment Act” that requires county contractors to consider hiring felons, dropouts, homeless and other “hard to hire” people was passed Tuesday on a split vote by the Broward County Commission.

Commissioners debated for nearly three hours before voting 5-4 on a slightly weaker version of what Commissioner Dale Holness originally proposed.

The policy requires employers on major county contracts to make a “good faith effort” to give half the jobs to the “hard to hire,” economically disadvantaged or any job candidate from CareerSource Broward.

Voting yes were commissioners Holness, Tim Ryan, Kristin Jacobs, Marty Kiar and Mayor Barbara Sharief. Voting no were commissioners Lois Wexler, Chip LaMarca, Stacy Ritter and Sue Gunzburger.

“Hard to hire” includes the homeless, felons, high school dropouts and mentally or physically disabled people, as well as military veterans. Economically disadvantaged includes people who have low incomes, are on welfare or food stamps, or have been unemployed six months or more. And some candidates from CareerSource, formerly WorkForce One, might not be in any of those categories. The federally funded CareerSource helps any and all of Broward’s unemployed find and qualify for jobs.

Any referral from CareerSource counts. But hiring an economically disadvantaged or “hard to hire” person counts as two hires, under the policy approved Tuesday.

Gone from the program are fines for failure to meet the requirements. Under the new version, county contractors will be provided incentives for meeting the goals.

The new policy applies to companies with contracts of $500,000 or more in construction-related work or other specific jobs, including food preparation, security, maintenance and cleaning, clerical work, parking and transportation, printing and landscaping.

First, the contractors must post the job for five days exclusively with CareerSource, then make a “good faith effort” to meet the requirement, including interviewing qualified applicants who are referred to them.

Ritter said it was “government overreach at its worst.”

“We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state and a lower unemployment rate than the nation,” Ritter said. “Government cannot solve the ills for every human being on this planet, nor should it.”

The idea for the law came to Holness from BOLD Justice, or Broward Organized Leaders Doing Justice — a group of churches.

“We’re actually building the fabric of our community,” Holness said. “It reduces our cost for social services as a result of encouraging businesses to hire from these categories.”

“This is truly not the bogey man in the closet that some have painted it up to be,” Jacobs said.

Donna Simms, a member of Miramar United Methodist, said the law is “for the 54,000 Broward residents, members of our congregations, members of our families, and our friends, looking to find work.”

Had it been in place this year, it would have applied to 45 contracts totaling $290 million, budget director Kayla Olsen said in a memo

The Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast chapter expressed troubles with the proposal, and the South Florida Associated General Contractors also opposed it.

The act will be reassessed in two years.

Broward tells contractors: Hire poor, homeless and felons

March 11, 2014. Sun Sentinel.

People who have the toughest time landing a job — felons, homeless, high school dropouts,welfare and food stamp recipients, military veterans and the poor — would get a hiring boost under a proposed law working its way to passage at the Broward County Commission.

The law, dubbed the “Broward County Workforce Investment Act,” would require county contractors to give at least half the new, contract-related jobs to the “economically disadvantaged,” the “hard-to-hire,” or job candidates from CareerSource Broward (formerly WorkForce One), the official jobs clearinghouse here.

Failure to do so would draw penalties of $1,500 per job. Exceeding the requirement would bring a bonus of $500 per job.

Job opportunities would have to be posted first for five days with CareerSource, before being advertised to the general public.

Broward’s unemployment rate is low, at 5 percent. But Commissioner Dale Holness said the people who make up that 5 percent need help.

“We are looking after those who have great need to be hired, those who are unemployed,” Holness said. “And as we discussed previously, those who are unemployed have a very difficult time getting employed, even if they are skilled, even if they have all the qualifications.”

Commissioners have for months debated and delayed the controversial law, first proposed by Holness, who represents Broward’s poorest district. More debate is expected at the final hearing on April 11, when commissioners will also consider a version proposed by Commissioner Lois Wexler. Her version doesn’t impose fines, among other differences.

The measure is similar to laws on the books in Miami-Dade County.

“The key is nobody up here wants to say they don’t support this,” said County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, the sole Republican on the nine-member commission. “I think everybody does. We are trying to figure out a way to make it work.”

The hiring preferences would apply to county contracts $250,000 or higher, for construction-related work or other specific jobs, including food preparation, security, maintenance and cleaning, maintenance, clerical work, parking and transportation, printing and landscaping.

To avoid fines, the contractor must try to fill half the new jobs with employees who are economically disadvantaged, hard to hire, referrals from CareerSource or one of its community partners, or through an apprenticeship program. Or the contractor could hire someone “without the skills, experience or qualifications” and train them through CareerSource or one of its partners.

CareerSource’s partners include the Urban League of Broward County, the OIC ofBroward County, the Broward County School Board, the Mt. Olive Development Corp., and ResBeat.

Under the proposal, “hard to hire” means people have a criminal felony record, are mentally or physically impaired, lack a GED or high school diploma, are a military veteran or were homeless for six of the past 12 months.

And “economically disadvantaged” people include those who have low income, have been trying unsuccessfully to get a job for six months, or are on welfare or food stamps.

Had it been in place this year, the proposal would have impacted 58 companies, county officials said.

The same companies are already required to pay their lowest wage workers a higher minimum wage, set by the county. The state minimum wage is $7.93 an hour. Broward’s living wage is $11.46 an hour.

Broward staff said estimating the financial impact of the law is difficult in some respects, especially if contractors choose not to bid on county jobs because of it.

“A reduced number of bidders may inhibit competition and drive up prices,” a county memo reads.

The law wouldn’t apply to contractors who operate with unions, or whose work falls under state or federal guidelines prohibiting local-based hiring requirements. And contractors who make a “good faith” effort but fail could also be excused.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position, but President Dan Lindblade said that personally, “I don’t think government should dictate to a company how to source employees.”

Contacted Tuesday, some companies that do major contract work with the county said they had no problem with the new requirements.

“I honestly don’t consider this to be a major hardship,” George Boue, vice president of human resources for Stiles Corp., said of the ordinance. “It’s reasonable and logical.”

The Fort Lauderdale firm, which has managed several large county construction jobs, including the recently completed downtown courthouse parking garage, already has policies aimed at hiring veterans, Boue said.

“I think most companies, especially civic-minded companies, we try to do the right thing.”

Boue said having a clearinghouse like CareerSource Broward will even help the businesses fulfill the new ordinance’s demands.

“When there’s some type of entity that facilitates this, it makes it better for the employer,” he said.

Randy Kierce, chief operating officer for Sunshine Cleaning Systems in Fort Lauderdale, called the new law “a positive thing.”

For his company, which has janitorial contracts at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and county libraries, the new ordinance won’t mean big changes.

“Some of the things they’re talking about in the ordinance, we’re already doing,” Kierce said. “We’ve worked with people in the past that kind of fit in with the description in the ordinance.”

The company already has mentally disadvantaged workers on its payroll, as well as those with criminal records. “We’ve got people out there that have been arrested,” Kierce said. “We believe in second chances.”

A faith-based organization, B.O.L.D. Justice, praised commissioners Tuesday for their unanimous vote to set the public hearing.

BOLD Justice brings mortgage modification

Broward County, FL – In 2010, Broward County had 9,433 homes in foreclosure and an additional 17,961 in pre-foreclosure. BOLD Justice pushed the County administrator to invite NACA, an organization that has modified over 100,000 home loans nationwide, into Broward County to conduct mortgage modifications. This resulted in a region-wider event in August 2010 held in Palm Beach where on-the-spot mortgage modifications were performed on 3,544 homes.

BOLD Justice demands action in 44 problem areas

Broward County, FL – In November 2009, community leaders identified 44 areas within Broward County that are consistently plagued with prostitution, drugs, violence, and theft. At the BOLD Justice Nehemiah Action in April 2010, leaders secured commitments from four different law enforcement agencies to investigate and take action on these areas. Since the Action, police protection has been increased in many areas, primarily Ft. Lauderdale’s Sistrunk Corridor and the Hollywood area. Within two months of the action, 25 arrests had been made in these two areas, which included the majority of “hot spots” identified.

Affordable renting expanded in Broward

Broward County, FL – With a turnout of 1,600 people at their April 2008 Nehemiah Action, BOLD Justice obtained a commitment from the Broward County Administrator, Bertha Henry, to convene the City Managers to draft a plan creating a net increase in the number of affordable rental units in Broward Countyover the next three years. Furthermore, city officials from Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood agreed to participate in this process. As a result of the 2008 action, $2.5 million was allocated toward constructing new affordable rental units and 358 new affordable rental housing units were built. In 2009, BOLD Justice continued to push on this issue. Funding for an additional 719 affordable units has been approved by the county for construction over the next year. Finally, in 2010 BOLD Justice held a third Action on affordable rental housing, pushing the County Administrator one more time to make a serious commitment to the creation of new affordable housing units around Broward County.  These three actions all combined to create 2,322 affordable housing units for the county.  All of the units are built and occupied by Broward’s working poor.