Housing Complex

Gray and Brown Play Good Cop, Bad Cop on Jobs

More money for everybody! (Lydia DePillis)

Today, Mayor Vince Gray announced a new pilot project that would create a carrot for employing District residents on six public school modernization projects: A five percent premium for general contractors that meet District resident hiring requirements negotiated in their contracts, and a bonus paid to subcontractors equal to 10 percent of the payroll of District residents on the job. City Administrator Allen Lew estimates that if this program boosts the percentage of District residents working from 22 percent to 35 percent, the projects will cost one percent more overall.

But, you say, don't we already have a First Source law that requires projects built with city funding to employ 51 percent District residents? Well, not quite–it only stipulates that contractors have to make 51 percent of their new hires from the District. Many of them bring a crew from project to project, or even do their hiring right before the project officially starts in order to skirt the requirement. So that results in tiny numbers on the site overall. Gray called this pilot project a "positive way to close an unintended loophole in the First Source law."

Very positive for the contractors, who now get paid more for every District resident they hire!

Council Chairman Kwame Brown decided not to be so nice. Along with Councilmembers Michael Brown and Harry Thomas, he introduced legislation a few weeks ago that would change the benchmark contractors must meet from new hires to total hours worked. The baselines are broken down by category of job, ranging from 20 percent of all non-construction hours to 70 percent of all common laborer hours. On top of that, rather than incentives, the bill increases fines for non-compliance from five percent to ten percent of the value of the contract. Probably appropriate to call that a stick.

It's a little strange to see Gray trying to "close a loophole" in a law that hasn't been successful in getting residents hired by just throwing more money at contractors–and after all, what's the point of a pilot project if you don't think it could work on a larger scale?–while Thomas and the Browns actually fix the law. Does Gray not think they'll be successful? It's not an example of using all the tools in the city's toolbox to get D.C. residents back to work, because the two approaches represent different conceptions

Watch it, contractors. (Darrow Montgomery)

of a contractor's responsibilities: Should they be expected to hire District residents as a condition of getting city contracts? Or is it a special bonus that they can choose to do or not?

Brown is very proud of the Council's independence, and Gray doesn't want to tell him what to do. But I feel like this one could be sorted out over a couple of beers.

  • Sam

    This whole debate is silly. Pay developers more to hire DC labor? What message does that send about the quality of DC labor? It's a regional job market folks. And three fourths of all potential employees in region live outside DC. Invest instead in educating and supporting DC youth to be competitive for employment. Chronic unemployment and near total unemployability? That's a tougher nut to crack.

    Here's an issue needing debate: What is the optimal or better, sustainable population size for DC? Should we cap off at 700,000? 800,000?

  • http://www.CCCA-online.com CCCAPrez

    Why not just fix DOES first so it reaches out and aligns it's database of job seekers effectively with jobs and training opportunities? And stop paying those 2nd party cronies who've created a cottage industry of playing middlemen to the process with underwhelming results.

  • Rick Mangus

    Here is that DC Shakedown that I always talk about!

  • LOL

    I will say that it seems like the council and the mayor are putting some interesting ideas out. Not sure which will prevail. But I am actually shocked to say that it seems like they are both thinking about something.

    Too bad they don't use that kind of critical thinking in all areas.

  • Drez

    First Source is BS.
    How long has it been law? How many Mayors have been slammed for not implementing it right?
    Clue train: it doesn't do what it's sold as doing.

  • Ward Cl3aver

    As Bono says,

    "Compromise: it's not a dirty word."

  • Hillman

    What no one wants to admit is that the labor pool in DC is abysmal. I will never forget talking to a foreman on a huge office construction project on Mass Ave next to Union Station. He was under orders to try to hire DC locals. Specifically, he was told he had to hire the homeless.

    So he went next door to the shelter (I forget the name, it's on the old schoolhouse there).

    He went day after day. He offered very good wages, for totally unskilled labor.

    He said he was laughed at and mocked.

    Not one person took him up on his offer.

    There is a problem with work ethic among many of the 'chronically unemployed' in DC. It doesn't do anyone any good to pretend this isn't true.

  • Typical DC BS

    @Hillman: The attitude problem you described is all too common. The other issue my company has in DC is finding competent labor. Basic spelling, grammar, math skills are horrendous in far too many people. We're talking educational skills that are not even at an 8th grade level. Issues like showing up on time, each and every day. I could go on and on.

  • Really?

    A raised glass to CCCAPrez & Drez!
    I have to admit that I’m glad to see Gray and Brown making some steps to address the lopsided First Source Issue.

    Construction is very broad and there are various stages which require “skilled professional labor” i.e. plumbers, electricians bricklayers etc.) There are various “unskilled jobs” (i.e. demolition and removal of debris). So I believe that the conversation between the city and “contractors and/or developers “and their concern about the lack of skills needs to be defined by construction job categories instead of broad terms. There is room to at least get some folks started with entry –level positions.

    Now the District has an apprenticeship program (DOES), but, to make this program become even more successful a couple of issues need to be addressed. Prospective apprentices as well as DC Administration need to know that “skilled professional” or “journeyman” as I stated with the above examples is going to take a couple of years .

    The second hurdle is establishing a comprehensive pre-apprenticeship course. Frankly a lot of potential apprentices get discouraged from entering the apprenticeship program because they realize that it aptitude test and math and science knowledge they posses is limited. Now a basic skills training (kinda like those remedial classes some folks take before they take actual college classes) is where the money needs to be established first.

    Lastly, the issues with getting Unions to open up actual apprenticeship courses as well as dealing with the race issue.

    Also I see some programs cater to those who speak Spanish only http://www.dclaborers.org/

    @ Typical DC BS since you’re in the construction arena, how do you handle those who speak no English at all? How do developers assess the skills and qualifications for illegals?

  • SEis4ME

    @Really, Typical DC BS since you’re in the construction arena, how do you handle those who speak no English at all? How do developers assess the skills and qualifications for illegal?

    Hey, I've heard this meme from people before and always ask the same question as you, "how do employers assess the skill set for nonenglish speaking laborers." I believe that they don't. They just pay them less.

    @Hillman, the story your by the foreman just don't seem true. Moreover, why would you have to hire the homeless and how would that work considering the number of them who suffer from some sort of mental illness or addiction?

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    You hire non-english speakers by hiring a bi-lingual foreman. Simple solution. You get a more dedicated and willing workforce as a result.

    Sadly, many DC residents(and I was born and bred here), fit the description that Hillman describes. Generations of government dependency has frankly made many of the chronically unemployed, lazy and entitled. The majority of the kids I went to school with dropped out before graduating high school or if they did graduate at all, it was because they were "pushed through" a broken system. Now, I see old friends and they've living in projects, relying on perpetual subsidies. Many of them are very capable human beings, but just choose not to do anything. Go to any of the job training and placement sites in DC and they'll tell you the same thing many of us are saying. DC has very able bodied individuals who just aren't willing to work.

  • Time2BReal

    DC First Source hasn't lived up to its potential because these councilmembers are not enforcing the law. By throwing more money at them, the council is just stringing them on to make under the table deals.

    Stop making laws that you will not follow or enforce plain and simple.

    We already witnessed they don't follow the law on vehicles in reference to Kwame and his Pimp-The-City style navigator

  • Govmint Werker

    Look at ITSA the contracting model for OCTO DC Gov. The middle main OST gets a good chunk of the hourly rate ($5.50). Let's say for a front line worker it's $40/hour (I'm rounding up it's usually less). That costs the District $80k a year (approx. 2000 hours). OST gets $5.50 so that's $34.50 going to the subcontractor. If they are fair they take 25% (that never happens they always take more) and give the remaining 75% to the actual worker. That is around $25 an hour or $50k before taxes. Less than $40k after. With the rent and income tax in the District not to mention the damn crime and moral compass of the politicians- who can afford to live there? DC Gov gets poor, the vendors get rich and the contractors actually doing the work are being villainized because they don't live in the city they work for. Make it more appealing to live in the District!!! Why have 9% income tax when you can go 5 miles away and cut that in half?

    So they force you to hire DC residents which for front line workers are the unemployable because they grew up here, had crappy schools and a crappy socio-economic experience. First source is not the answer. It only pads the pockets of the vendor.

  • Rob

    This is ridiculous. Brown's legislation is just a ploy by DC based contractors, who most likely contributed to his campaign, to eliminate competition from outside the city. This does not help anyone. The district will be forced to pay for lower quality contractors at a higher price. No contractor worth their salt will even be eligible to submit a bid for a contract.

    I thought we lived in a free market society, these regulations destroy competition and create a monopoly for a few LSDBE contractors who don't need to be competitive on pricing and already receive preference when bidding.

  • Really?

    @Adrian Bent-Me "You hire non-english speakers by hiring a bi-lingual foreman. Simple solution. You get a more dedicated and willing workforce as a result."

    So how does the bi-ligngual foreman assess skills for illegals? Are there documents that they posses?

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Really- the same way they do for DC residents currently: pick up a hammer and get to work. I think that's a more "legitimate" way of doing it than pulling up a truck at a homeless shelter. They don't ask for documents from the homeless right?

  • Jason

    Increase the number of Lincoln Navigators.

  • SEis4ME

    Adrian, what Hillman described was the foreman's experience dealing with the homeless. You're talking about something else.

    Now, based on my experiences somewhat dealing with this issue, the people who want to work, aren't the one's being hired. The people you went to school with who don't want to work and live off the government aren't the people who we should focus on.

    Again based on my experiences, there are tons of people who want to work but can't. Those are the people who can't get these jobs and not just because they were "unskilled" per se. They didn't possess enough experience in craft to be considered qualified for the jobs.

    Yes, DC and other cities are filled w/leeches. However, It is neither accurate nor fair to assume that DC residents aren't hired for these jobs because they are lazy and want to live off the gov't dole.

    And no, hiring the homeless can only work up until a point.

  • SEis4ME

    It sorta sounds like the republican talking point when they say that the unemployed are content with not looking for jobs because they're receiving unemployment checks.

    It's hyperbole.

  • Jack

    The First Source law is, as currently written, unconstitutional. Read United Bldg. & Constr. Trades Council v. Camden, 465 U.S. 208 (1984). Hopefully, the several current efforts to amend the law will combine to fix the problem.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    SEis4ME or Really or whomever- my argument was intended to deflect the comments made by those of you who take every opportunity to knock immigrants in the District. I guess my experiences aren't valid cause you didn't share them right? Go to any public housing project in the City or areas that have large poverty tracts, and you'll see exactly what I mean. Seemingly healthy, strong individuals spending all day moping around doing nothing but living off of subsidies. This isn't unique to DC alone or to Blacks, but to those who have been bred to be poor and remain poor- it's a profitable business. Look at DC specifically and those who work on behalf of the poor. They don't want these families to improve because it means that they'll be out of a job.
    I'm glad your experience proves that some are willing and capable. But please don't for a second think that this is the norm. Go out and see for yourself. I'll send you a map if you'd like.

  • Really?

    Lord! @ABM For Real? Look for the record I'm not knocking immigrants. I'll go on your field little trip (to appease you), if you go with me to some of these construction sites and speak to Developers who received steep subsidies and have a large demographic of Hispanic/Latino workers and ask the developers how they "accessed" their skills.

    For the bitchin and moaning that Developers do about finding qualified worker I don’t think it’s an unfair question a developer’s process and procedures on accessing the skills of workers. And having a foreman simply translate “Puedo poner ladrillos” doesn’t cut it.
    Furthermore, the fact that thousands of District dollars bounce out of DC and are spent where many of these workers and developers reside, is nothing less than continual economic suicide for the District
    But, alas reporters are stuck, like a scratch record, about black on black interior instead of seeing that at least this administration and the council are addressing the jobs issue.

    Now let’s take a flash back to few months ago in the last administration….. Fenty…..who “didn’t send any one from the administration–not the head of the Department of Employment Services nor the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development nor any of their staff–to testify at the roundtable (audit findings on first source program). All the Attorney General's office sent was a letter saying that living wage regulations were indeed being enforced (Nichols–not Peter Nickles–said there was no way they could know whether they were being enforced, since there's no oversight).”

    Watch for yourself!


  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Really- I think First Source is sham and the ones who benefit from these arrangements are shady middle men contractors who fit the CBE parameters. It needs to change, but I think it's unfair to blame one side for the failing. Or if we are to blame one side, blame the damn government. The District had made it very comfortable for poor people to remain poor. Not a single administration can be blamed for this, because it's a problem that has been breeding in the city for generations. My former classmates and their kids now are doing exactly what they've been taught to do. The go get it spirit that many immigrants currently have is lost on residents who've become too dependent on subsidies.

    I was adamant in my argument against Fenty's shady dealings. That hasn't changed and will never change. I'm just hoping Gray doesn't follow suit.

  • Really?

    ABM...I agree with everything you said (Really gives ABM a virtual hug).

    What needs to happen is a burning of First Source.

  • Adrian Bent-Me


  • Color struck

    It is all about work ethics. A five day work week is what it is, with no exceptions. As a person who hire and fire employees, the dc applicant pool is jorrendous (combining the word joke and horrendous).

    Giving a job opportunity and getting a job does not have the time for people who are trying to get over. I am here to tell you that the get over crew pool is quite large.

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