Ferry replacement troubles provide insight on local hire ordinances

Two Seattle stories from yesterday are a telling juxtaposition. First, in the Stranger, “Should Seattle Require Local Workers on Its Construction Projects?” and second, at KUOW, “Why Washington Ferries Are Such A Headache To Replace.”

As the Stranger reports,

For more than a year, the city has been studying a potential “local hire” ordinance, which would put rules into place guaranteeing that some percentage of work hours on large capital projects go to local residents. (It may go so far as to mandate workers’ zip codes.) . . .

From October 2013 to May of this year, a coalition of contractors, subcontractors, community members, and policy experts met—just like the city’s minimum-wage committee did—to hash out consensus-based policy recommendations for a city “local hire” ordinance. How many local workers or work hours should be required? What does “local” mean? How large does a city project have to be for these rules to kick in? How does this interact with union hiring rules? And what about nonunion shops? After many months, the committee delivered a set of big-picture recommendations that still leaves the city council with some details to hammer out.

Council Member Clark, who chairs the council committee that will first discuss the ordinance, says they have to add in their own consideration: the cost to the city. “It’s not cheap to do this,” she says. “And it shouldn’t be.” Because if you require that contractors use local workers, there have to be local workers for them to hire, and there is projected to be a tightening of the construction labor market in a few years.

Indeed it would not be cheap, which the ferries story shows:

By law, ferries must be built in the state. The purpose is to create jobs, even though it reduces competition and increases cost. The state also demands that a portion of the Washington workers hired to build our ferries be apprentices. These two rules reduce the number of eligible shipyards.