For supervisorial candidates vying to represent San Francisco's District 10, where unemployment is rife and construction opportunities abound, legislation that would force city contractors to hire workers locally has become a key issue.
Underemployed residents of the district stand to reap more benefits from the legislation than those in any other part of the city because poor neighborhoods are specially targeted for jobs, but not all candidates support it.
That's largely because questions remain over whether the legislation, which large labor groups oppose, is workable and fair.
Voters living in the Bayview, Hunters View, Visitacion Valley and other southeastern San Francisco neighborhoods will choose among 21 candidates appearing on their ballot who are dueling to replace Sup. Sophie Maxwell as the District 10 supervisor. Maxwell is termed out from running again.
The district suffers from high unemployment, high crime rates and sharply elevated rates of asthma and other diseases caused by industrial pollution.
It's also unique because most of the district, including public housing facilities and abandoned industrial areas such as the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, is slated to be developed or redeveloped by government and private developers in the coming decades, potentially creating a windfall of temporary and permanent jobs.
Of the 21 District 10 candidates, 16 have told Supervisor John Avalos's office that they support a mandatory local hiring bill that he introduced early last week, according to a list of names provided by aide Raquel Redondiez.
Within three years, if the recently introduced legislation becomes law, half of all work on city-funded construction projects must go to San Francisco residents. At least half of the work must be set aside for residents of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, such as those in District 10. Contractors that fail to meet the legislation's local hiring goals could be fined.
The city has a long-standing policy of requiring its construction contractors to make "good faith" efforts to provide at least half of construction work to city residents, but a recent study funded by the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development found that just 20 percent of sampled construction hours were worked by residents.
Avalos's legislation is welcomed by community activists but generally opposed by the labor movement, largely because unions resent hiring mandates based on city of residence or other factors that they consider discriminatory.
District 10 candidates interviewed by The Bay Citizen who haven't backed the legislation said they support efforts to improve hiring rates of San Francisco residents, particularly those in southeastern San Francisco. But they have reservations about whether mandatory hiring goals are realistic.
"I totally agree with the concept, I just don't want us to be fooled into thinking that passing legislation on a piece of paper is going to magically solve the problem," said candidate Kristine Enea, who is not endorsed by major labor groups.
Enea said she has not signed a petition supporting Avalos's legislation, which was circulated by his office, because she hadn't yet read the legislation and because of vague "broad-brush" statements on the petition, such as an agreement that everybody has a right to a living wage. "Are we talking about union labor only?" she said.
San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Michael Theriault says Avalos's legislation would be unworkable, partly because construction workers cannot afford housing in the city. He said too few qualified construction workers live in San Francisco to fill the number of mandated jobs proposed by Avalos.
Avalos has characterized his legislation as a starting point for further discussions with labor groups and other stakeholders.
Malia Cohen, who is endorsed by both the trades council and the San Francisco Labor Council, is among the handful of candidates who have not agreed to support Avalos's legislation.
The public affairs consultant and former Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco strategist said Monday afternoon that she had not yet read Avalos's legislation.
"I am 100 percent behind local hiring," Cohen said. "But [mandatory hiring laws] absolutely must be realistic and achievable."
Candidate Tony Kelly, who supports Avalos' legislation, said unions' reluctance to support mandatory local hiring legislation is cementing division between organized labor and the rest of the community.
"They've been so fastidious about protecting their members that city policy has gone out of the window, with the city policy being that we need to hire our residents," Kelly said.
Kelly accused unions of selling out the low-income Bayview community in recent months through ardent support of a shipyard redevelopment project that neighbors fear will bring gentrification, air pollution and other insidious side effects.
"The 100-year alliance between labor and San Francisco is based on us taking care of each other," Kelly said. "So when a wedge gets driven between that, what do we do?"
"What if we actually expand the universe of union jobs? A part of the reason that labor gets beat up on this is because 'local hire' is always about 'construction.' But there are a lot of other fields of workers in the city," Kelly said.
Residents who are qualified for construction jobs would benefit if newly constructed buildings, such as hospitals and storefronts, were occupied by organizations that were required to commit to hire nurses and other employees from surrounding neighborhoods, Kelly said.
Kelly's belief that legislation is not enough to solve chronic unemployment within the district, and that mandatory hiring laws and efforts should be extended to non-construction jobs, was generally shared by other candidates interviewed by The Bay Citizen.
Candidate Steve Moss, for example, signed the petition indicating his support for Avalos's legislation but said he believes a wide range of approaches is needed to move residents into the workforce.
"The fact that you need to have that kind of [mandatory local hiring] initiative indicates that you have a problem that's deep-seated," Moss said.
Moss said local job opportunities would arise for district residents if local government improved schools and after-school facilities and better fostered the growth of grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores, cafes, pharmacies, light manufacturing facilities and other businesses in the area.
He said greater coordination is required by the city's parks division, transit agency and other departments.
"We don't know exactly how we're investing our money," Moss said. "In general, after school programs are not well evaluated. Some of them are good and some of them are dreadful. We need to better support the good ones."
District 10 candidates who had signed a petition supporting John Avalos's mandatory local hiring legislation, or indicated they would sign, by Tuesday, which was one week after the bill was introduced.
Franklin, MJ Marie
Jackson, Espanola *
Rhodes, Ashley Hawley
Smith, Diana Wesley
* - write-in candidate
Candidates who had not registered support
Source: John Avalos's office