I routinely meet people who are eager to contribute to their families and their communities by earning a paycheck for an honest day’s work.
Too many of these decent men and women, however, have their hopes of landing a job dashed by the fact that Baltimore City leads the state in unemployment. It’s an ugly truth that is complicated by the fact that each year the city awards hundreds of millions of dollars in construction and other contracts to businesses that have not always lived up to a mutually established goal of hiring some of their workers from within the city’s borders.
Under this scenario, the City of Baltimore represents a paying customer, one in need of, let’s say, a bridge repair or street resurfacing. As a customer, the city has a need and is willing to pay a contractor to perform a service. But in order to complete the task that contractor will need skilled labor, and it just so happens that Baltimore City is filled with skilled, unemployed workers. So cam we conduct an even exchange – your service for our workers?
This is a question that has been asked by several world-class cities, such as Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. And the answer – to channel our 44th president – has been a resounding, “Yes, we can!”
On Monday I took a major step toward reducing Baltimore’s stubbornly high unemployment rate with the introduction of a bill to create a local hiring mandate within the City.
My bill would require 51 percent of all new jobs created as a result of a city contract above $300,000 or a project that includes a subsidy of $5 million or more to be filled by residents of Baltimore City. Waivers may be issued, on a case-by-case basis, under certain special conditions that are outlined in the legislation.
During my time on the City Council I have established a long track record of championing local hiring efforts. I was instrumental in setting local hiring goals for the Lexington Square and Harbor East Developments and worked tirelessly to ensure that the city’s video lottery terminal project included a local hiring initiative.
But Baltimore must move beyond relying on the good faith efforts of contractors to ensure that residents have access to employment opportunities. City government must ensure that our residents, labor leaders and contractors join together to finally make local hiring a priority as we seek to grow our city and its economy.
Nationally, cities from Boston to San Francisco have found ways to legally institute local hiring preference programs and the same is possible in Baltimore City.
My legislation does not represent an intrusion of government or a handout and it would not be a burden on the business community. Similar legislation in Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco and Cleveland did not harm the business community and my bill will not harm Baltimore’s business community either.
These cities have found creative, legal ways to get their citizens to work and I believe we could do the same thing right here in Baltimore City.
I believe this legislation is absolutely legal and could make a positive difference in the lives of many Baltimoreans who are unemployed or underemployed.
Together, let’s put Baltimore back to work.