Opinion: HireNYC Fails to Create Careers for Construction Workers

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De Blasio Groundbreaking

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Mayor de Blasio at a 2015 groundbreaking. His administration has promoted HireNYC as the 'largest and most impactful targeted hiring program in the nation.'

Recently, City Limits reported some alarming facts about HireNYC – a New York City jobs program that has been falsely promoted as the “largest and most impactful targeted hiring program in the nation.”

The truth about HireNYC does not live up to the hype. Only 767 individuals were hired through HireNYC since its launch in 2010, as City Limits revealed, but even that low number doesn’t reflect how few hires were actually made in construction and development.

HireNYC covers multiple sectors, but when we isolate the construction and development arm, the results are truly appalling. Out of 1275 HireNYC job referrals from January 1, 2017 through July 22, 2018, only 175 were hired through the development arm, while 1079 (85 percent) are still pending.

When we look at just construction jobs in the Bronx, the results are even worse.

Last year, during a City Council Subcommittee hearing concerning the rezoning of the Jerome Avenue Corridor, the deputy commissioner of Small Business Services Michael Blaise Backer testified that only 19 Bronx resident hires were made on city-funded construction projects citywide in 2017. With millions of city tax dollars going toward major new developments, it is fundamentally unjust and unacceptable that only 19 Bronx residents were hired for jobs to help build the future of our city’s neighborhoods.

Construction is booming, yet HireNYC is doing nothing to ensure that major development projects create good jobs and careers for underemployed and unemployed New Yorkers in places like the Bronx.

With no real pathway from job training to work, it’s no surprise that so few new construction and development hires were made through HireNYC.

If the city wants to see local workers gain access to good jobs with real training, they should invest in pre-apprenticeship programs that have direct entry to union apprenticeships. These programs are proven to work, hire local workers, and create real career opportunities.

Indeed, my union, Laborers’ Local 79, has been working with several successful pre-apprenticeship programs such as, Pathways to Apprenticeship (P2A), The Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills (CSkills), Helmets to Hard Hats (H2H), and Nontraditional Employement for Women (NEW) for many years. Such programs have helped New Yorkers, including many who are people of color, immigrants, women, and formerly incarcerated, enter the construction field as highly skilled and effective laborers who know how to build well.

Responsible contractors and developers in the real-estate industry have seen these programs consistently provide well-trained workers and help ensure that major projects are built to the highest quality.

Union apprenticeships provide New Yorkers the opportunity to receive training and graduate as skilled construction workers with zero student debt. Our apprentices gain valuable experience in the field while earning good wages and access to real career paths. Apprenticeships have the ability to lift job seekers out of poverty and into the middle class. Not only do apprentices receive health insurance once they’ve completed their required work hours–their spouses and children do too.

Meanwhile, HireNYC doesn’t set standards on fair wages or accessibility to quality health care – two key things New Yorkers need, especially when working physically demanding jobs like construction.

That’s not accountability. That’s not reinvesting in local communities providing the city millions in tax dollars that are used to subsidize new residential and commercial construction projects.

For too long, the city has looked for ways to avoid mandating local hiring from the communities we’re building in, paying workers fair wages, and providing adequate training.

That needs to change, especially when taxpayer dollars are funding new construction and development in communities where residents need good jobs and middle class careers.

The city’s efforts to expand construction workforce development should take full advantage of quality training and apprenticeship programs already in place. A deeper partnership with union apprenticeship training programs is possible. Tax-payer funded subsidies should only be given to developers and contractors who hire locally and provide good wages with benefits.

HireNYC has the opportunity to be a real vehicle for economic opportunity, but first the city must take better advantage of programs already proven to work.

Mike Prohaska is Business Manager of Construction and General Building Laborers’ Local 79, and a native of the Bronx.

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