Update on Port of Seattle’s PLA-enforced priority-hire proposal

Citing problems already apparent in the priority hire ordinances passed by the City of Seattle, Sound Transit and under consideration by King County, AGC raised significant concerns about the Port of Seattle’s proposal.

The Port is considering a priority-hire program for construction projects “that focuses on recruitment, training and employment of workers who reside in Economically Distressed Areas as defined by King County.” The draft of the resolution can be found here. The program would be administered through Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) negotiated by the Port – another policy opposed by AGC.

AGC Seattle District Manager Sonja Forster took issue with the Port’s proposal as a solution to local workforce-demand issues. “At this point in time, the market itself is pushing projects to widen their geographic search for workers and specialty contractors,” Forster said. “Sound Transit has been advertising projects and subcontracts nationally for some time and our region is poised to push demand even farther. The preference toward PLAs in our public agencies adds even more downward pressure on a contractor’s ability to hire locally and reduces their contractor supply. With the addition of local hiring enforced under the PLA structure, the situation gets even more dire – especially for small and WMBE contractors.”

Forster made her remarks at a roundtable discussion held by the Port. She was joined Jay Bulson (Northwest Construction), David and Rani Bal (Signs Now), Sean Hilt (Turner) and Jessica Scarsella (Scarsella Bros). The Port Commission will consider the draft resolution at this afternoon’s meeting with final action scheduled for November 28.

Another concern is the fact that the priority-hire programs put the onus on contractors, yet it is the unions who supply the workers. “As with priority hire in the City of Seattle and the proposed legislation in King County, the Port’s approach seems to put the responsibility for filling priority hire goals only on the contractor,” Forster told the Commission. “Without our workforce supplier having some responsibility for workforce goals, the community is not getting the results it needs. When discussed in Seattle, the solution seems to divert attention away from labor supply and settle on ramping-up penalties on contractors who are unable to fill workforce goals. Contractors can make priority-hire requests to the hiring halls, but don't have any control over who gets dispatched. Oftentimes, requests go unfilled and non-priority workers are dispatched when priority workers were needed. The contractor risks penalty for taking that worker and getting the job done. As contractors, we are working to manage this risk, but it’s an area where our policy can be better aligned with our community goals.”

“AGC appreciates the intent of adopting priority hire at the Port of Seattle,” Forster added. “Attracting new workers, training them, and retaining them for a career in construction is currently our members' number-one priority. Diversity in the construction workforce is also a goal we all share, and one that our contractors are pursuing with initiatives and investments.”

For more information, contact Sonja Forster, 206.284.0061.