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Somerville aldermen consider local hiring legislation

Posted by Marjorie Nesin  June 16, 2011 10:00 AM

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You've heard of buying local. In Somerville, some advocates and aldermen want companies to hire local.

Members of Jobs for Somerville introduced a draft local hiring ordinance at the June 9 Board of Alderman meeting. JFS is a project of the Somerville Community Corporation.

The issue has come to the fore with major development projects ongoing at MaxPak and Assembly Square.

As currently written, the ordinance would apply only to developers that receive a city subsidy of over $50,000, and to their commercial tenants. That subsidy could include grants, loans, tax abatements, bonds, and city improvements made specifically to support the project.

The law would require that local residents perform at least 30 percent of total construction work hours. One-third of those hours would be performed by "disadvantaged workers:" people who are low-income, homeless, chronically unemployed, or receiving public assistance, among other criteria. One-third of the construction apprenticeship hours  also would go to Somerville residents.

Once the commercial entities in those buildings were up and going, they would have to fill 30 percent of their jobs with local hires.

Download the draft ordinance at somervillecityma.iqm2.com.

"Jobs are really important to the well-being of a community," said cosponsor Alderwoman Maryann Heuston at a short presentation before the meeting.

"This is worth fighting for -- not just in the Board of Aldermen but it's worth fighting legal challenges that might come up after it is passed," said cosponsor Alderman Bruce Desmond.

The city negotiated a local hiring agreement with Ikea, Alderman Bill Roche said at the board meeting. "Instead of doing it piecework, we should be doing a city ordinance," he said.

All 11 aldermen signed on to sponsor the legislation.

Alderman Bill White touched on the question of whether local hiring ordinances are legal.

Somerville Community Corporation commissioned a memo to address that issue from the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice. "The proposed Somerville ordinance is very similar to an existing East Palo Alto, California ordinance in that it does not include firm quotas and encourages good faith efforts to hire local residents," the memo concludes, which "provide[s] a firm basis from which to defend the ordinance if legal challenges arise."

"It's been passed in many other communities ... without problems," said organizer Cecily Harwitt.

The aldermen's legislative matters committee is reviewing the ordinance. Learn more at somervillecdc.org.

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