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Seattle Must Hire More Workers From Poorer Neighborhoods

KUOW photo/John Ryan
Seattle City Council member Sally Clark

Seattle City Council has put new restrictions on who gets to work on the city’s construction projects. Under legislation passed Tuesday, 20 percent of workers on public works projects will need to live in disadvantaged ZIP codes in King County. That percentage has to double over the next decade. KUOW’s John Ryan reports.

Only six percent of the construction workers getting paid with city tax dollars actually live in Seattle.  

The bill that city council passed nine to zero aims to change that.

By next year, big public projects will have to get a fifth of their labor from King County neighborhoods whose poverty, education and unemployment levels are problematic.

Places like Rainier Beach, where Ray Hall lives. He's working as an electrician now. He says he wishes the bill had passed earlier, back when he was unemployed.

Hall: "To be a 15-year electrician out of work and see buildings go up around your neighborhood is a very tough thing to do when you're skilled and you went through all the training that everybody else went through."

Council member Sally Clark says she isn't worried about the cost of the new requirements.

Clark: "On every capital project that the city does, you will see a small, marginal increase in costs. That's necessary in order to operate the program to do the kind of recruitment that we're talking about. But the public cost that we're facing right now for underemployment and unemployment is far greater than that, I think."

The city of Seattle spends about $200 million annually on construction projects. City officials estimate training disadvantaged workers and enforcing the local-hire requirement will cost a million a year.

The state's main construction-industry group, the Associated General Contractors of Washington, supported the measure. Jerry Dinndorf with AGC says it remains to be seen whether the local-hire requirement will boost the price of building public works in the city.

Year started with KUOW: 2009