Thursday, January 10, 2013

St. Pete City Council opts to delay local hiring ordinance proposal

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 12:24 PM

Wengay Newton was a strong supporter of the FAST inspired proposal
  • Wengay Newton was a strong supporter of the FAST inspired proposal
On Thursday, the St. Petersburg City Council — led by the activist interfaith group, Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) — met to discuss a proposed local hiring ordinance that would require contractors who win city construction jobs worth $2 million or more to set aside at least 25 percent of all work hours for unemployed or underemployed Pinellas County residents. The ordinance would require that all contracts for such projects contain provisions requiring contractors to make good faith efforts to employ apprentices for at least 20 percent of all hours of work performed.

But due to opposition spearheaded by Mayor Foster, the idea was dropped at the meeting.

The proposal has been criticized by representatives of the construction industry, as well as the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times. After the proposal died during the discussion, the Foster administration suggested an alternative solution: a registry of unemployed and underemployed workers that city contractors would be rewarded for using. Ultimately the council rallied behind Councilman Jeff Danner's proposal to host a workshop that would be scheduled within the next 20 days, and bring about members of FAST, the Associated Builders and Contractors, the local Chamber of Commerce, and all other interested parties.

For months, the leading critic of the proposal has been the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, led by Steve Cona III.

Although the council amended the plan that would have required 50 percent of all work hours to go to Pinellas County residents and another 20 percent to apprentices and disadvantaged workers — and require $150,000 to be spent on a consultant — Cona told City Council members that it still had unworkable parts.

"You guys would be the first council to implement a local hiring ordinance," Cona said, adding that other Florida cities and counties have local preference ordinances, but nothing as far reaching as what was being discussed. His idea that his group could work in a "good-faith" effort with the city and FAST didn't receive much support.

Councilmen Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton were the only members of the council who didn't support the workshop. Kornell said he received e-mails from Cona's group threatening a lawsuit, and he wasn't inclined to believe them.

Councilman Danner said unemployment is a huge issue in the city, but the proposal would do nothing to address that problem in the private sector. Nor did it address transportation, he said. Job training, he added, was what the unemployed, underemployed and ex-felons needed. He sparked the idea of hosting a workshop.

The true feelings about the proposal were perhaps best expressed by Mike Connors, St. Petersburg's public works administrator, who said that packed chambers of "special interests" did not necessarily translate into good public policy. Connors also said that the city would need to hire one of two extra staff members to insure that contractors were adhering to the policy.

Mayor Foster urged the council not to support the proposal before them, saying that though there were areas in a local preference ordinance that would be appropriate and could be passed, "this is not what I had in mind before I became mayor."

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