(March 15 -- By Jeff Morales, Special to The Bee)
The Bee's recent editorial, ("Should ex-cons get dibs on rail project?," March 4) takes an unfair swipe at the authority's goal of creating and maximizing job opportunities for Central Valley residents. It ignores long-standing state and national policies encouraging employers to help economically-disadvantaged people, including returning veterans, re-enter the job market.
Since unemployment in the Central Valley is the highest in California, and well above the national average, it is vital that there is an emphasis on creating jobs there. The authority's board has adopted an aggressive goal of 30 percent small business participation, which will provide unprecedented opportunities for small, minority and disabled veteran-owned firms throughout California. We are also working on a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to promote employment opportunities in the Central Valley.
The five joint-venture teams that are bidding on construction of the first leg of high-speed rail have pre-existing agreements with labor unions. The Bee's editorial surmises that union apprentices will "receive the bulk of any hiring slots that go to" disadvantaged workers. What is important to note is that in California about 95 percent of the construction apprentices in state-approved programs are indentured in apprenticeship programs jointly sponsored by labor unions and signatory contractors.
Thus, the CBA represents a partnership of parties by way of this agreement to advance training and employment opportunities in the construction industry. Any and all people hired to work on the program, including disadvantaged workers, will have all the necessary training and qualifications to perform their jobs. The CBA also creates an opening for nonunion businesses and workers to fully participate in building the high-speed rail system, and expressly prohibits discrimination based on union membership.
The Bee also didn't mention that the agreement contains a no-strike clause. This protects the taxpayers to ensure that the project will not be subject to costly work stoppages which could jeopardize the high-speed rail program.
Under the CBA, construction contractors will be required to adhere to the National Targeted Hiring Initiative that says 30 percent of the work will go to National Targeted Workers and 10 percent of the work will be done by disadvantaged workers. Who are we talking about?
People living in economically disadvantaged areas and facing barriers to employment such as being homeless, a custodial single parent, receiving public assistance, lacking a GED or high school diploma, having a criminal record, chronically unemployed, emancipated from the foster care system or being a veteran.
These definitions come from almost 20-year-old state and federal programs that provide incentives, through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, for employers to help such people get off of public assistance and back into the job market.
Working people help strengthen the economy and communities. Many will learn new skills that will serve them for a lifetime. It's an investment in our future that we can all be proud of.
Jeff Morales is CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.