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Now Is The Time to Unleash The Power Of Cities And States To Build Back Better

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 29, 2021

The bipartisan infrastructure bill currently in Congress presents an opportunity to rebuild from the pandemic and prepare for the worsening climate crisis. Both the pandemic and increasingly common extreme weather events have disproportionately affected BIPOC people and women—from those living in areas that are vulnerable to climate change to the women who have been pushed out of the workforce in droves

The bipartisan infrastructure bill currently in Congress presents an opportunity to rebuild from the pandemic and prepare for the worsening climate crisis. Both the pandemic and increasingly common extreme weather events have disproportionately affected BIPOC people and women—from those living in areas that are vulnerable to climate change to the women who have been pushed out of the workforce in droves

If the bill passes, the lion’s share of the money will go to state, local, and tribal governments, but current federal rules constrain cities from coming up with innovative solutions to the many crises of our times. 

There are many examples of cities running into these constraints in the past. In 2004, the Cleveland City Council enacted the Fannie Lewis Law, named for the council member and civil rights activist, which required city residents to make up at least 20% of the workforce on construction projects with city contracts of more than $10,000.

Despite Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson saying that the law created equity and reduced wealth disparities in the city,  in 2007, the US Department of Transportation informed the city that they could not apply the Fannie Lewis Law to federally funded projects because the law was “anti-competitive” and violated federal rules. The city sued, but the U.S. Circuit Court of appeals—while sympathizing with Cleveland—overturned the law because the city had failed to include the Fannie Lewis requirement in the bid specifications. The U.S. DOT, however, continued to assert that applying local hire to federally funded projects would subject the city to the potential loss of federal funds.

Another example is in Birmingham, Alabama, where the city attempted to raise the minimum wage for city workers in 2015, only to be blocked by a bill in the Alabama Senate blocking cities from setting their own wage

Connecting infrastructure projects with good jobs for local workers would not only help this country rebuild, but have a positive impact on regional economies. We must unleash the power for cities and states to create good jobs for all with federal funds. Here are two solutions I propose for doing this. 

First, we need to end the ban on local hire and allow state and local governments to require contractors to hire local residents to rebuild infrastructure in their own communities—an option that, for decades, has been prohibited when using federal grant money. Like Mayor Jackson in Cleveland, mayors have called on the government to make this needed change for their cities.

We also need to encourage federal grantees to implement a U.S. Jobs Plan credit to incentivize and reward companies that commit to creating more and better U.S. jobs and incorporate racial equity in hiring, and that commit to using employees rather than independent contractors to complete the federally funded work. This is more than what’s outlined in the Buy America Act, which only requires that a percentage of the supply chain be located in the U.S., but not that the jobs be good or equitably sourced. 

Too often, companies that get public contracts and tax incentives to provide needed infrastructure are not building up our communities with good jobs. Tesla

TSLA
, which has received billions in government subsidies, has been accused of union-busting and its workers have reported unsafe working conditions and low wages. It’s simple: if a company is receiving federal money, they must provide a plan for high-road jobs, training programs, and a hiring plan that targets marginalized communities. 

The transition to electric buses and other vehicles, wind, and solar energy will require building new factories and creating new jobs—which is what the country needs for the economy to rebound. But these jobs need to be good jobs—ones that pay a living wage, provide training and opportunities for advancement, and create healthy communities. We applaud President Biden for taking steps to get local residents back to work, and we call on Congress to ensure we create good jobs for all.

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