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New Orleans Workers Gain Construction Jobs

New Orleans Workers Gain Construction Jobs

Published: August 16, 2011

A recent announcement that New Orleans residents will obtain 40 percent of jobs at a city construction project represents a major step forward for a campaign that combined patience and persistence to result in a win-win for residents and the city.

The campaign for a “First Source” ordinance began almost three years ago, when Malcolm Suber, then a consultant, organized a conference to consider how $5 billion in anticipated post-Katrina reconstruction funds would best support community development.

 Representatives from labor, community groups and churches “together decided that the New Orleans community must lay claim to jobs created by this massive reconstruction plan.  Unless we demanded that local people get some of the construction work, it would not happen,” said Malcolm, who since has joined the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) staff.

Thus was born the New Orleans Jobs with Justice (JWJ) coalition, which demanded that half of new construction jobs financed by public money would go to local residents, and that the jobs would pay a living wage.  This demand became the basis of a proposed “First Source ordinance,” which would mandate that local residents get preference for jobs created with public funds.

 “We saw this as simple democratic demand and a win-win for the city,” Malcolm said.  “The city would be rebuilt and local people would have jobs and money to spend in the city, thus increasing our tax base. More importantly, putting our residents to work would lower the crime rate.”

 As partners promoted First Source, AFSC and JWJ also brought proposals to governmental bodies that oversaw other construction projects.   “We spoke up at most public meetings having to do with reconstruction.  We also made continual appearances on local radio and TV.  Pastors spoke in favor of First Source in their pulpits,” Malcolm recalled.

The results first came in February, when the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) and the Industrial Development Board (IDB) announced that 40 percent of workers employed on the reconstruction of the BW Cooper and Lafitte Housing Projects must be New Orleans residents.

 In exchange for the local job creation, the IDB provides the developer a tax break.  If contractors fall short of the goal, the IDB would require HANO and its developers to repay, proportionately, some of the property tax concessions.

Although the federal government already mandated HANO to provide 35 percent of new construction jobs to local residents, Malcolm and other partners say this requirement likely would have been overlooked had it not been for protests staged by BW Cooper residents.

Eighty local residents now have jobs on the two projects.

 And on August 4, the IDB announced that it would require a local developer of a downtown apartment who wanted a tax break to employ 75 percent New Orleans workers.   This will result in forty more construction jobs.  All of these jobs average $13.00 per hour.  

The City has informed the AFSC and JWJ that it will launch a pilot First Source project in the fall.