SAN FRANCISCO -- As San Francisco prepares to put into effect what is billed as the nation’s toughest local hiring ordinance, a recent gathering of about 50 local contractors and construction industry representatives was a mix of resigned acceptance and cautious optimism.
“I think it’s going to work, at least at first,” said William Holland, an ornamental-iron contractor who attended a public meeting on Friday at City Hall to discuss the new law, which establishes strict requirements for how many work hours on city-financed projects must be completed by city residents, starting with 20 percent this year and rising 5 percentage points a year to 50 percent.
The law also requires that a set percentage of hours be performed by low-income workers. The requirements apply to municipal construction projects worth more than $400,000 within 70 miles of the city.
Supporters say the law will create much-needed jobs as San Francisco grapples with a 9.5 percent unemployment rate and prepares to award an estimated $27 billion in public works and improvement contracts over the next decade.
“Local hire will not only boost our local economy and get San Francisco families back to work, but it will translate into a reinvestment in our city that will help pay for parks, public safety and social services,” Mayor Edwin M. Lee said.
But critics say the law’s benefits come at the expense of jobs in surrounding counties, where many construction workers have sought lower housing prices. Those outlying areas are home to more than 60 percent of the estimated 14,700 construction workers employed in San Francisco, according to the State Employment Development Department.
As workforce demand picks up over the next few years, it will be increasingly difficult for contractors to find enough skilled local workers to meet the new rules, said Michael Theriault of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council. He said the city should focus on increasing the number of disadvantaged residents in construction apprentice programs.