Now that the parade of labor union members and leaders, bus riders, politicians and ordinary citizens have voiced their overwhelming support for an historic Project Labor Agreement (PLA) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board of Directors unanimously approved it, the next step [in the process] is to get an OK from the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA).

Once the FTA has signed off on the agreement, the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail line will be the first project to begin construction under the new guidelines.

The PLA was hammered out between the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Constuction Trades Council and Metro over the last year, and will allow 40 percent of work hours on upcoming MTA construction projects to be completed by workers living in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. This means communities where the annual median income is less than $40,000.

Additionally, 10 percent of that 40 will target those struggling with poverty, chronic unemployment and other hardships. These are individuals who are homeless, a custodial single parent, receiving public assistance, lack a GED or high school diploma, have an history of involvement with the criminal justice system, is an emancipated foster youth, is an Iraqi or Afghanistan war veteran or who have less than 15 percent of the apprentice hours required to graduate to journey level.

At least 20 percent of the 40 hours will also be completed by apprentices.

But what makes this agreement unique is that on all of the projects utilizing federal funding from the FTA, the jobs will be open to people living in economically disadvantaged communities from around the nation.

Those projects relying entirely on local funding (typically from Measure R) will hire workers from anywhere in L.A. County.

Under the agreement, the unions will serve as the primary source for workers, and under a Construction Careers policy will also facilitate training to get people into entry-level apprenticeship programs.

The PLA also includes a no-strike provision, and covers MTA transit and highway projects that cost in excess of $2.5 million. This could amount to as much as $70 billion, if MTA fully implements its long-range transportation plan.

This could also translate into an estimated 270,000 wage-paying union jobs.

During the public discussion of the PLA at MTA’s Jan. 26 meeting, one of the key issues that arose was the question of enforcement and monitoring.

“There is a provision in the PLA to ensure compliance . . . and we all get access to the reports (from the jobs coordinator),” said Ernest Roberts, head of PVJobs, a job placement organization.

The Black Worker Center was also very vocal in its support of the PLA and says it has built partnerships with workers, unions, community groups and policymakers to ensure that the agreement included a diversity pledge, anti-discrimination and stronger disadvantaged worker language that sets emancipated foster youth as a disadvantaged worker criteria.

The Black Worker Center also made efforts to ensure that federal civil rights and equal opportunity language, including enforcement and monitoring, be applied to both locally and federally funded projects covered by the agreement.

Additionally, according to Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, coordinator of the Los Angeles Black Work Center, the organization has and will be implementing a number of programs designed to help the community understand that PLAs are not just about getting jobs, but represent a new way employment is being generated. This is being done through orientation programs that train those interested in how to go and monitor construction projects for Black worker involvement. The next session is Feb. 15 from 5-6:30 p.m. and registration is required: (323) 752-7287.

Another effort the center is undertaking is working with Black construction workers to make sure they know about the PLAs, get connected with the jobs and retain them. Organizers also intend to create a pipeline of construction workers to find out where they live, and what their skills are. “This way we don’t have to hear subcontractors say they can’t find qualified Black workers,” said Smallwood-Cuevas.

The Bus Riders Union (BRU) also strongly supported the PLA but the organization is concerned that MTA is trying to build a rail system and make capital improvements it can not afford, even with the $30 billion in revenue projected to come from Measure revenue.

“There is a funding shortfall to finish and operate what they are planning,” charges Sunyoung Wang, lead organizer with the BRU. “That’s what happened in the 1980s; they financed the rail expansion by cutting bus service.”

When MTA has such money shortfalls, Wang alleges they “play a shell game” with the funding.
The BRU has proposed an alternative plan that would add 500 additional busses to the current fleet and generate more than 10,000 jobs. This would include 1,500 permanent unionized green jobs for MTA that include mechanics, drivers and support personnel; and 2,330 union construction jobs to build two bus depots and 10 bus-only lanes.

The bus riders group is also recommending lowering fares which they claim will generate a $300 million stimulus for bus riders.

BRU projects another $4 billion in economic activity would be generated by the additional jobs added to the economy.

Finally, if the MTA purchased the 500 new zero-emission buses from a U.S.-based manufacturer, BRU projects that would create more than 4,000 additional jobs.

According to Wang, in order to get their alternative jobs proposal considered, the BRU must get one of the MTA board members to formally propose it for consideration. This has yet to happen.
Individuals interested in potentially gaining employment as a result of the PLA should contact the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council at (213) 483-4222.