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Portland Advocates Seek City Commitment to Community Benefits Agreement

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Advocates of equity and inclusion in municipal contracting in Portland, Ore., are cautiously optimistic that the city will follow its 2012 resolution and apply the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) more widely following a successful pilot program that exceeded goals for diverse hiring and contracting on two Portland Water Bureau construction projects.

“The CBA has been groundbreaking in its inclusion of community and equity stakeholders at the oversight table and in increasing employment and contracting opportunities for minorities and women,” observed Casey Barnard, senior project manager with Worksystems, Inc. and former ECC local director in Portland. “The CBA has also been a game-changer by providing dedicated funds to support outreach, training, contractor technical assistance and compliance,” she added.

Constructing Hope (pre-apprenticeship training) students attended the City Council CBA hearing

 Hiring, Contracting Goals Exceeded

In 2012, City Council enacted the CBA resolution, applicable to city construction projects of $15 million or more, as a vehicle to address historic disparities on city construction projects. Portland’s CBA pilot projects exceeded the CBA’s minority/women employment goals and diverse contracting goals.

According to an op-ed in the Daily Journal of Commerce Oregon, not only did the CBA projects come in ahead of time and under budget, they also achieved the following equity results:

      • Minority- and women-owned firms earned 26 percent of total contract revenue, or $23.9 million.
      • With a goal of 18 percent journey-level hours worked by people of color, the CBA pilots achieved nearly 25 percent journey-level hours performed by people of color.
      • Minority apprenticeship participation was more than double the stated goal, reaching 40 percent of total hours.
      • For female apprentices, the participation was triple the goal, or nearly 30 percent of the total hours

CBA supporters testify at the Portland City CouncilStanding Room Only

Following a favorable April 2016 CBA Oversight Committee Final Report and independent evaluation of the two CBA pilot projects – a report that city staff kept under wraps for some five months – public pressure finally led to significant community input at September 22 and 28 City Council hearings on the CBA results. Citizens representing dozens of local community organizations and labor unions packed the room in support of applying the CBA to more projects and continuing to increase the numbers of women and minority workers and contractors on city-funded development projects.

From left, Connie Ashbrook, Casey Barnard, Bill Kowalczyk and John Gardner testify at one of the well-attended public hearingsBarnard – who was among more than 100 community members testifying in favor of more widespread application of the CBA, and who co-authored the Oversight Committee’s final report – noted that a second day of hearings was added “due to the significant turnout of community members interested in speaking.”  

And in addition to those presenting prepared statements, she said, “the community turned out in force to demand that the city pursue equity, in partnership with community and labor. 

“We feel that the hearings were successful in demonstrating the CBA’s value to community partners and convincing City Council not to endorse a staff report recommending a watered-down version of the CBA,” she continued, explaining that the staff-proposed approaches lack shared community-labor oversight and transparency that made the CBA pilots so successful.

Support from City Council

Several comments by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales at the CBA hearings are fueling community hope that the city will embrace the CBA model going forward:

  • “The CBAs clearly have been working.”
  • “We’re still talking about this because there’s still institutional racism and sexism in our city… and it’s actually in city government as well, not because we are racists and sexists, but because if we don’t make changes that are real enough and big enough, then we don’t achieve equity. The CBAs are a high-water mark of doing ‘more like enough.’ We did ‘a little more like enough’ this time. Let’s learn from that, let’s repeat that, let’s use that tool some more.”
  • “Equity is hard work. It’s worth the extra time, it’s worth a lot of energy. For the remaining time that I am here in this position as your mayor, I am going to keep pushing this progress and the use of tools that work, including Community Benefits Agreements, because they do work.”

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