People of color and women make up a small portion of the workforce on city-funded construction projects. This year, people of color made up 25 percent and women represented 6 percent of the workforce on city-funded projects, said Nancy Locke, director of city purchasing and contracting services for the city of Seattle.
The Seattle City Council is exploring how to change that. The nine-member council will vote in September on a resolution directing city staff to research and propose a program that would hire more people from disadvantaged communities for construction work.
The city council’s Economic Resiliency Committee discussed the resolution Aug. 7.
The resolution stems from a request by Got Green, a South Seattle environmental and social justice nonprofit, and the Targeted Local Hire Coalition. The groups want the city’s construction contractors to hire a percentage of the workforce from poor communities, perhaps using the median income of a ZIP code or census tract as a guide.
Other cities require that up to 50 percent of the jobs on city construction projects go to people from those disadvantaged communities.
In Seattle, the Women and Minority-owned Business Enterprise program requires the city to contract out a percentage of work to businesses owned by women and people of color. It encourages the city to hire on-the-ground workers from disadvantaged communities, but does not require it.
It hasn’t helped, Locke told the Economic Resiliency Committee Aug. 7.
It’s difficult to legislate diversity in Washington state because voters passed an anti-affirmative action initiative in 1998 that prohibits state and local governments from hiring based on race or gender. Seattle is required to accept the lowest bid on a project and cannot select the contractor with the most diverse workforce.
Labor unions would support a targeted local hire program, said Jermaine Smiley of Laborers Local 242. Construction workers have a history, he said, of hiring from disadvantaged communities.
“Our union 100 years ago was started on the workers nobody wanted: African Americans, Irish workers,” Smiley said.