But after years of talk about getting more Jersey City residents to work on construction projects around the city, the City Council has introduced an ordinance mandating that developers sponsor apprenticeship programs for local residents on their construction projects.
The council's activity came on the heels of Mayor Jerramiah Healy's announcement about the ordinance the day before while surrounded by union officials, apprentices, and prospective workers in the council chambers.
"This ordinance seeks to strike a balance," said Healy. "Union labor is the best labor."
The ordinance will need to go through a second reading before it goes up for approval at the next City Council meeting scheduled for this coming Wednesday.What's in the ordinance?
The proposed ordinance calls for developers getting tax abatements to use union labor for private projects costing over $15 million and city government-based projects costing over $5 million.
The developers also would have to establish an apprentice program aimed at getting more Jersey City residents, particularly minorities, onto local work sites. Also, it would require that 20 percent of the work on the projects be conducted by union apprentices who are part of the program, which would teach them a trade that could lead to a higher paying union job.
Most apprentices go through training for three to five years, with part of a year devoted to on-the-job training and classroom study and another part solely to on-site work.
Developers and union officials will meet with city officials 90 days before construction starts, to start fulfilling the ordinance requirements.
Those requirements include the city notifying the Jersey City Board of Education, the Jersey City Employment and Training Program, and the Jersey City Housing Authority about available apprenticeships before construction. The developer will have to advertise apprenticeship jobs in two local newspapers, and the developer and the union will hold at least two job fairs at a location provided by the city.
The penalties for developers who fail to comply include the termination of tax abatements for private developers, or ending a public construction contract. Other penalties include paying fines for public projects and increasing the annual service charge fee on tax-abated projects. Why the ordinance?
The ordinance, according to city officials, was drafted to strengthen a stipulation to create jobs for local residents on construction sites.
As Healy pointed out during the press conference, 18 out of 24 development projects in the city are tax-abated. A tax abatement is an agreement to exempt a developer from regular, fluctuating property taxes. There is usually a separate revenue deal for the developer to pay money to the city over 20 or 30 years - called Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). PILOT money goes straight to the city rather than being split among the city, the county, and the schools.
Thus, it is controversial because it helps the city budget but not so much the other budgets.
When abatements are approved for projects in Jersey City, one stipulation is that the recipient of the abatement has to comply with the Project Employment and Contracting Agreement to ensure that 51 percent of the construction workforce is local residents and that 51 percent of those residents are minorities.
Also, the recipient has to make a good-faith effort to work with minority vendors.
There are monitors within the city's Division of Economic Opportunity responsible for making sure that the projects comply with the agreement. Pros and cons
City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis said the ordinance is "the first step" in making sure that people who are "creating the jobs are put in touch with those who need the jobs."
Eric Boyce, the secretary and treasurer for the Hudson County Building Trades Council and a member of the Plumbers Union Local 14, said the ordinance was a long time coming. "Intentions and good will were there but it takes the strong leadership skills of our mayor and some of the council members," said Boyce.
Eddie Torres, a Downtown Jersey City resident who has been a union member for 18 years, also praised the ordinance, saying how a five-year apprenticeship program in the 1980s helped him become a union member.
But not everyone was on board.
James McCann, an attorney in the Jersey City-based Connell Foley and a representative for several developers, expressed his displeasure at being informed about the ordinance only a short period of time before the press conference. McCann opted to reserve further comment until he read the ordinance.
Another longtime local lawyer said the ordinance includes penalties that could "scare away" development.
This lawyer also pointed out that developers aren't responsible for direct hiring, adding that the general contractors they retain to manage their projects hire subcontractors who actually do the hiring. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org