May 21, 2015. Tampa Bay Times.
ST. PETERSBURG — Contractors on big-ticket city projects will be required to fill 10 percent of their jobs with “disadvantaged workers” after the City Council unanimously approved a hiring ordinance Thursday.
The ordinance requires contractors to reserve 10 percent of work hours for workers either with criminal records or who have received some form of public assistance in the previous year.
The mandate would apply to city projects of $2 million or more. An original threshold of $10 million, which only would have included large projects such as Pier Park, the Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion and the new police headquarters, was lowered during committee meetings. Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes advocated for including more city work.
Contractors pushed back, saying hiring requirements would increase red tape and lead to higher construction costs and less competitive bids.
The council is “setting a dangerous precedent by mandating contractors hire from unfamiliar sources without taking on any of the liability for safety or quality of work,” said Edward Briggs, a lobbyist representing Associated Builders and Contractors, Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.
The ordinance is unfeasible and bad public policy, Briggs said.
The council has already passed a similar measure that requires an equal amount of work be reserved for apprentices.
Both measures have received strong support from Faith & Action for Strength Together, a grass roots activist group, a large contingent of which attended the council meeting.
A voluntary incentive program hasn’t worked, they argued.
Multiple speakers said the measure would reduce crime and the need for public assistance and employers were overstating the impediments such a measure would create.
Some said contractors’ concerns about red tape are insensitive to the plight of ex-offenders seeking a job.
“I would remind them there is a great inconvenience in not being able to get a job,” said Marty Brinsko, a FAST member.
Council member Karl Nurse said he started working on the issue in 2011. The incentive program was crafted by builders, but they didn’t use it.
Nurse said the big-ticket projects such as the pier, police headquarters and treatment plant are a once-in-a-generation chance to bring in workers that have previously been shut out of the workforce.
“This is an opportunity that won’t come again,” Nurse said of the estimated $150 million in anticipated construction costs.
The $2 million threshold would also include water utility and road resurfacing projects, said Public Works Administrator Mike Connors.
Council member Jim Kennedy offered an amendment that would require a report on how the mandatory hiring would affect the number and prices of bids. It passed.
Council member Amy Foster and Gerdes said costs would likely rise, but spreading opportunity was worth the price tag.
“It’s a ground-breaking step for the city,” said council member Darden Rice. “Our city is really ground zero on how to get ex-felons back to work and reintegrated in a crime-free life.”