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L.A. Transportation PLA Offers Lifeline for Long­-Term Jobless, Homeless

This is a cross-post from Chaz Bolte of the We Party Blog.

The city of Los Angeles and its mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, have been leading the national push for Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) to help create jobs for local workers. This trend continued last Thursday as the city and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced that PLAs have been entered into to ensure that 40 percent of the work hours performed on most MTA projects moving forward will be done by people who live in economically disadvantaged communities.

[Project labor agreements are pre-hire agreements between labor and management that require all construction jobs be filled by local  workers; include diversity requirements; establish wages and work rules  covering overtime, working hours and dispute resolution; and ensure that  safety guidelines on the job site are enforced.]

In addition, at least 10 percent of the work hours are to be reserved for people suffering from homelessness, chronic unemployment and other challenges. This kind of pro-active approach to tackling multiple societal ills through infrastructure development is commendable and needs to be mimicked nationwide.

From the LA Times blog L.A. Now:

“I am proud that the MTA board voted unanimously to become the first transit agency in the nation to use federal and local dollars to create jobs targeted at economically disadvantaged communities and individuals,” Villaraigosa said. “This landmark program is part of a strategy to deliver public transit projects while creating jobs that will lift people out of poverty and into the middle class.”

While the unemployment rate in Los Angeles County declined in 2011, it still hovers around 11 percent, some two points above the national average. Ensuring local hire on big projects can get the chronically unemployed back to work and allow them to contribute to the stimulation of local economies. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the bill, said the following about the broad-ranging PLA:

This is a matter of justice. As a result of this groundbreaking victory, Los Angeles is now a model for the rest of the nation. We have demonstrated that job creation—and not the creation of just any jobs, but highly skilled union jobs that lead to a middle class standard of living for workers—can and should be a standard component in transportation infrastructure projects.

California, generally, and Los Angeles, specifically, has long been supportive of PLAs and 2011 was a particularly PLA-friendly year for the state. The unemployment rate among California construction workers was 27.1 percent in 2010, but the use of PLAs has had a hand in lowering that number. The latest PLA will also set up apprenticeship programs for those looking to begin a career in the Building and Construction Trades. described how the PLA will have a positive impact in California:

The PLA covers all MTA transit and highway projects with a cost of over $2.5 million, which— if Metro fully implements its Long Range Transportation Plan—could amount to as much as $70 billion in construction work over the next three decades. The PLA ensures a skilled and trained workforce that is paid prevailing wages to get these projects done on time and on budget.

The construction industry throughout the nation is depressed and communities are suffering from extraordinary and harmful levels of unemployment and poverty. The PLA and Policy help remedy these problems by directing opportunities to those individuals and communities who need them most.

Rep. Karen Bass (D) gave the following statement on the MTA’s new Project Labor Agreement:

Today’s vote to approve the Project Labor Agreement and Construction Careers Policy represents a huge step toward providing relief to many of the communities which are currently experiencing historic hardships including unemployment, underemployment and general economic distress. With more than $700 million in transit and highway construction projects planned in Los Angeles over the next 30 years, investing 40 percent of the jobs in disadvantaged communities is a tremendous step in the right direction and I applaud Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors and the Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades Council for working diligently to craft this significant policy and agreement. I look forward to continuing to support efforts to bring jobs and economic opportunities to the people and neighborhoods that need them the most.

As the economy continues to improve and major infrastructure projects begin to take root, PLAs will be seen as an excellent opportunity to bolster communities through pro-active hiring provisions. Villaraigosa’s effort to maximize the benefits of infrastructure spending through the use of PLAs should be viewed by other cities as an excellent example.

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