City, unions take a sharp hit on jobs policy compliance

A City Council hearing on guidelines aimed at ensuring Boston residents are hired for publicly funded building projects drew protests this week from activists who claimed City Hall and unions aren’t doing enough to up the numbers.

City councillors met Monday night at the Kit Clark Senior Services in Fields Corner for a three-hour hearing that at times had a tense atmosphere, according to several attendees.

Robert Richardson, 51, was there with his seven-year-old son Rasheem, and he aired his frustration with what he said was a lack of opportunity to get work in the area, despite being a Boston resident. “A lot of these guys, they came from out of the city,” he said of workers he sees at construction sites. “Some are from the North Shore, some are from the South Shore.”

Under city guidelines, city-hired contractors are asked to make sure that 50 percent of workers on job sites are Boston residents, 25 percent are minorities, and 10 percent are women. The guidelines were set up through a city ordinance known as the Boston Residents Job Policy, and City Councillors Ayanna Pressley and Michael Ross have pushed to make the hiring data more readily available for public scrutiny.

Contractors and subcontractors who work on city projects must submit regular employment reports to compliance officers at City Hall.

A Reporter analysis in March showed that most contractors do not reach that threshold. In one case, a New Hampshire-based contractor working on the reconstruction of Cronin-Wainwright Park saw its payments from the city suspended when it did not adhere to the guidelines.

“I’m trying to feed my family,” said Richardson, who until recently was a member of a tile and bricklayers union and is now affiliated with the Boston Workers Alliance, a community organizing group. “Why can’t the residents get the work? We should be able to get some work. I live in Dorchester and I can’t even get work.”

Inside the building, councillors and community activists were joined by union members, who came in for some criticism from the activists. “It turned into a bashing session,” with most of the anger directed at elected officials and unions, said state Rep. Carlos Henriquez (D-Dorchester).

Some pointed to the wording in an Oct. 3 hearing order calling for the meeting and put together by City Council President Stephen Murphy. Councillors have called for better enforcement of the guidelines and increased staff in the compliance office. The hearing order focused on the potential establishment of a labor practices oversight committee and stated that minorities and women “have historically been systematically excluded from the construction trades and unions in the City of Boston despite the implementation of the Boston Jobs Residency Policy.”

State Rep. Martin Walsh, a Democrat and secretary-treasurer of the Boston Building Trades Council, said the hearing in Fields Corner was not put together well and the building trades were unfairly and “unjustly” criticized.

Walsh said he supports Boston jobs for Boston residents. “We don’t control the owners and the contractors,” Walsh said. “We represent people who work on those projects. I was listening. It turned into in some ways going after the building trades more so than anyone else.”

Walsh said he hopes Murphy will put together a plan in response to the hearing. He added that the community should be frustrated because little was resolved at the hearing. Murphy was not immediately available for comment.

District 3 Councillor Frank Baker said he understood activists’ frustration and added that the jobs policy needs to be given better teeth and an increase in the compliance office’s budget.

The numbers at the Ferdinand building project in Dudley Square have improved, and the numbers at UMass Boston, which is experiencing a building boom, “weren’t great” but have “gotten better,” he said.

Baker, a longtime supporter of unions, also said it was time for the city to have a “serious discussion” about trade schools and training Boston children.

“If we had legitimate trade schools with a pathway into the unions, you would see those numbers [at job sites] drastically improve, my opinion,” he said.