Peralta Board Urges Hiring Changes By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday October 21, 2005

Although employment of local workers in the multimillion dollar Vista College construction project in Berkeley has jumped dramatically since a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) was put in place, Peralta College district trustees said they were disappointed that more has not been done to include both local workers and minority contractors in the project. 

Consultant Jake Sloan of Oakland-based Davillier-Sloan labor management consultants told Peralta trustees last week that employment of local workers by the firms building the new Vista campus—Amoroso Construction and its subcontractors—has jumped from 3.5 percent to 25 percent. However, that number is only half of the 50 percent total local hiring goal in the agreement signed between Peralta and Amoroso. 

Davillier-Sloan is under contract with Peralta to assure company compliance with the Project Labor Agreement of the Vista construction project. 

Sloan also reported that the hiring of local apprentices for the Vista project has jumped from 0.03 percent to 8 percent of all workers, again short of the 20 percent goal called for in the PLA. 

Sloan said that his company had identified six contractors on the Vista project “who we don’t think have made the best effort [for local hiring], and we have identified them as being in apparent non-compliance” with the PLA. 

Sloan said that his company plans meetings with those contractors soon, adding that the contractors could be taken to arbitration by the district if they continued to be out of compliance. He did not identify the contractors by name. 

With ethnicity-based affirmative action programs virtually outlawed entirely in California, Peralta is using still legally-permissible “local hiring” provisions to stand in for minority hiring goals, since a large percentage of the population in the district’s five-city service area (Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Albany) is minority. In addition, Peralta has policies in place to encourage construction companies under contract to hire minority subcontractors. 

Trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen asked if it was accurate that only 2 percent of the contract work for the Vista project was being done by African-American workers, a figure he said was given to Peralta trustees earlier this year by an African-American business representative. 

“I honestly don’t know,” Sloan told him. “We haven’t been instructed by you to compile that type of information.” 

After Sloan said that under the PLA, companies need only prove that they have made a “good faith effort” to comply with the local hiring goals, Trustee Alona Clifton told him it was a “very sad outcome that we have been getting from Amoroso, their good faith effort notwithstanding.” 

And trustee Linda Handy said that her biggest concern was about the issue of minority subcontracting, noting that she was “very discouraged to find that these [minority subcontractor] processes are being circumvented by companies waiting until the last minute to fax a request or send information to [minority] companies, making it impossible for them to respond in a timely manner.” 

Handy added that “although I am glad to see that compliance numbers are rising, I want to see those numbers at the top of our compliance goals. Even at 25 percent, it’s not enough. It’s not truly representative of the numbers of people in our service area who are paying the taxes that are creating these opportunities.” 

With the PLA also calling for 20 percent of the Vista construction jobs to go to apprentices, all of whom should be local residents, Trustee Bill Withrow suggested that the low number of actual local apprentices on the project (8 percent) might be overcome by “feeding people into those jobs from our college vocational programs. Since there’s a shortfall, this should be an opportunity to use the colleges to provide job opportunities for young adults in our service area.” 

But Sloan replied it was not that easy, and that local unions often provided an extra hurdle to overcome. 

“You can prepare your students to enter apprenticeship programs, but you can’t control the entry into those programs,” he said. “The unions control that.” 

Sloan said that while some trade unions operate year-round entry into their apprentice programs, “the trades that we are really focusing on getting local people into—plumbers, electricians, and sheet metal workers, for example—only accept apprentices once per year, and sometimes not that often. Even then, they only accept a certain number.” 

Sloan added that some unions, like the Teamsters, don’t operate apprentice programs at all. 

He said that the union apprentice programs are “extremely difficult to get through. I went through both college and an apprentice program as a young man, and college was easier. In the apprentice program you have to work every day and go to school at night, and they have very strict rules for absenteeism. After you finish the program, to get on the work list, you have to pass both a written and an oral exam. It’s not easy.” 

District staff said that Peralta will soon be hiring a contract compliance officer to assist with the local hiring and minority subcontract provisions of its construction contracts. In addition, under questioning, Trustee Withrow said that Peralta’s newly-hired inspector general could also assist in that effort. 

“This is an important segment of what we do,” he said.