Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg tweaks proposal for hiring ordinance

ST. PETERSBURG — After lots of study and criticism, city officials have decided not to spend $150,000 to analyze the hiring practices of local construction firms.

Such a report would have formed the basis of a proposed city law to force construction firms to hire Pinellas County residents on taxpayer-funded projects that cost $2 million or more.

A study isn't needed to link high unemployment and poverty to the impact of the ordinance, Jeannine Williams, assistant city attorney, wrote in a recent memo to the City Council.

The group will be updated Thursday on the changes.

The council could request more revisions or use the update as the first reading of the proposed law. A vote and public hearing could follow in the coming weeks.

Proponents believe the law will help disadvantaged and minority residents land jobs on projects like the new $40 million police headquarters and the $50 million Pier project, known as the Lens.

Now, city attorneys have tweaked the proposal to target unemployed or underemployed workers instead of residents or disadvantaged workers.

The earlier proposal would have forced firms to use the workers for 50 percent of the hours on the projects. That's been changed to 25 percent.

Other changes include requiring contractors to show how they identified unemployed workers, listing subcontractors and detailing the work to be done by workers.

The hiring law has been talked about for months and is being pushed by Faith and Action for Strength Together, or FAST, an interfaith social justice group made up of 38 houses of worship in Pinellas County.

Rabbi Michael Torop, co-chairman of the FAST jobs committee, is pleased that the city won't be doing the study. Even with the required hours dropping from 50 percent to 25 percent, Torop said "anything will help" unemployed workers.

Critics contend the law would reduce competition, produce lower-quality work and drive up prices. The Associated Builders and Contractors objects to the proposal.

Steve Cona III, president of the trade group, said the law should target unemployed workers who are qualified or skilled for the jobs. And he suggests the proposal only be a good-faith effort, not a hard, fast rule.

"A 25 percent quota for all work hours on a construction project is not a workable solution," he added.

Besides some taxpayers and council members, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce also opposed the $150,000 study because of recent budget woes.

No overall figure is available on how much St. Petersburg spends yearly on consultants or studies. But the city spent $250,000 in 2012 on two studies that produced no results.

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