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County to focus on hiring local workers

10/19/2010, 5 p.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--The Board of Supervisors have agreed to back mandatory hiring of local workers to help build the new Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center.

The deal approved by the board requires at least 30 percent of the project's construction labor hours be worked by local residents.

First preference will be given to qualified workers who live within five miles of the Willowbrook-area hospital. Next in line will be county residents who live in any Zip code with unemployment more than 1.5 times the county rate.

Nearly a third of all county-administered welfare goes to residents within five miles of the hospital in unincorporated South Los Angeles, according to a study done for the board.

Under the hiring plan, a third of the locals employed must also qualify as "disadvantaged,'' based on their lack of a high school diploma, history of incarceration, long-term unemployment, receipt of social services, homelessness or status as a single parent.

Dozens of speakers, including local residents, trade union representatives, religious and community leaders, appeared before the board to support the hiring program.

A small business outreach program also was approved for the project today.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed that a Project Labor Agreement be negotiated with various trade unions, to govern labor relations for the project and override unions' collective bargaining agreements. He said that such an agreement would help drive the local hiring process.

But his colleagues were reluctant to move forward with the PLA without knowing more, and voted to have the CEO return in two weeks to explain the benefits and costs.

In a letter to the board, county CEO William Fujioka said that the PLA would take about four months to negotiate, require the hiring of a consultant and increase project costs by about $1 million.

But during the meeting, Fujioka said the PLA might also save money.

"A PLA, properly constructed, can actually save money and, more importantly, result in a better quality project,'' said Fujioka.

PLAs have been implemented for major construction projects by other local agencies, including the city of Los Angeles, Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority, Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles Community College District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California, according to Fujioka.

President Barack Obama issued an order encouraging federal agencies to use PLAs for all construction projects with a cost of $25 million or more, overturning a ban on the practice instituted by former President George W. Bush in 2001.

In San Diego County on Nov. 2, however, voters will decide a charter amendment that would do away with PLAs.

Supervisor Gloria Molina urged the CEO to make clear "how will it benefit not only us ..., but how will it benefit the community.''

Supervisor Michael Antonovich raised concerns about the timing.

"Every day that we delay is an increase in cost'' and in getting the community the facility it needs, said Antonovich.

By Elizabeth Macellino | City News Service