On April 6, 39 member-organizations of the Jobs to Move America coalition – including community, labor, civil rights, academic, philanthropic, and environmental groups – submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in favor of allowing job-creation incentives connected to federal transportation contracts, at the scheduled conclusion of a 30-day public comment period. The DOT then announced it would extend the comment period to May 6.
“The Jobs to Move America coalition supports the DOT’s historic efforts to make it easier for local transit agencies to put people to work on transportation projects,” said Madeline Janis, Director of Jobs to Move America. “But we must be thoughtful in shaping local hiring and other targeted jobs programs tied to our nation’s transportation spending. We offer our comments to the DOT to help develop jobs initiatives that truly maximize the impact of federal investment for local working families.”
Monday marks the end of the comment period for a major change in federal policy, opening transit contracts to local job creation for the first time. On March 4, the DOT proposed to change “common grant rules” governing federal funding for transportation projects. The change would allow local and state transit agencies to include geographic and other targeted hiring programs in federally-funded construction, rolling stock manufacturing, and other transportation projects. Previously, federal regulations prohibited incentives for ‘local hiring’ in these contracts.
United States Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also launched a related 1-year experimental program for public transit agencies receiving federal grants in 2015 to create special programs to hire local workers and economically-disadvantaged workers.
Taken together, the two DOT initiatives could potentially create tens of thousands of new jobs and give local workers greater opportunity from transportation projects. The Jobs to Move America coalition’s comments applauded DOT’s initiatives for this reason, and also offered suggestions for crafting the final rule with more specific guidance to transit agencies administering federally-funded contracts with geographic and targeted hiring language. The Jobs to Move America coalition is dedicated to making our public transit dollars go the distance — creating jobs for disadvantaged and low-income communities through large purchases of transportation equipment like buses and trains. Every year, U.S. transit agencies spend about $5.4 billion on bus and rail car purchases, alone.
“There’s a stubborn unemployment gap in America — in March it was 5.5 percent overall, but 10.4 percent for African Americans and 6.6 percent for Latinos. Based on the industry standard that every billion dollars spent on transportation infrastructure creates some 13,000 jobs, there’s potentially a lot of work here. We look forward to working with Secretary Foxx and the administration to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Laura Barrett, Campaign Director of Gamaliel and the Transportation Equity Network (TEN).
The Jobs to Move America coalition’s comments provided specific recommendations to strengthen the DOT’s final rule, drawing on member-organizations’ extensive experience creating geographic and targeted-based hiring preferences in public contracting. The coalition urged the DOT to include a direct reference to “targeted hiring” programs in the final rule. The coalition also expressed its belief that grantee agencies should be able to use geographic preferences in rolling stock procurement with certain limitations. The coalition also offered past examples to illustrate how targeted hiring policy will increase community and economic benefits of publicly-funded contracts without inhibiting open competition in the bidding process.
“It is fiscally prudent to create mechanisms of inclusion for our local citizenry unable to participate in the economic upturn,” said Ernest Roberts, Executive Director of PV Jobs. “In Los Angeles, we’ve partnered with LA Metro on targeted hire programs putting people of color, women, people returning home from incarceration, and veterans to work on the Crenshaw Line and local manufacturing projects. Having the leeway to create provisions that provide meaningful career pathways for left-behind people is a critical and necessary step for the health of our communities.”
“Over the past decade, targeted and local hire policies have proven to create real and effective pathways for disadvantaged workers into good construction careers. Together with innovative policy tools like Construction Careers Policies and U.S. Employment Plans local hire programs have directed billion of dollars in infrastructure investment to the people who need it most. We now have an incredible opportunity to build on these successes and ensure that US DOT funded projects create good job opportunities for local residents as well,” said Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel, Deputy Director of the Partnership for Working Families.
The DOT changes come on the heels of four major American transportation agencies – Los Angeles Metro, Chicago Transit Authority, Maryland Department of Transportation and Amtrak — adopting the U.S. Employment Plan, the policy framework developed by the Jobs to Move America coalition. The U.S. Employment Plan heralds a growing demand from transit agencies and city leaders like Mayors, for new ways to create jobs through publicly-funded investments.