Leveraging $3.2 Billion MTA Contract to Create Good Jobs for Our Communities

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Today companies competing for a $3.2 billion Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) contract to produce more than 1,000 subway cars, with the potential to create thousands of jobs here in New York, will gather for a pre-proposal conference in Manhattan.

The big question raised by this large public investment is how are we leveraging it to create good paying jobs, train and “upskill” our workforce and provide career opportunities for low-income workers, particularly those who face barriers to employment?

According to the New York State Labor Department the current unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) is five percent statewide, 5.6 percent citywide and 7.7 percent in the Bronx, which has the highest unemployment rate of the five boroughs and the highest poverty rate among the working age population, 25.5 percent, according the City’s poverty measure.

Rates of unemployment and under-employment run highest among blacks and Latinos reflecting long-standing inequities in education, access to jobs, job-training opportunities, and to be sure, the effects of poverty and employment discrimination. There has also been a steady drop in manufacturing jobs overall. Historically, these jobs represented one of the few sectors where disadvantaged workers could make a living wage and carve a pathway to the middle class. Of the technology-driven manufacturing jobs being created in today’s economy, many if not most typically require sophisticated skillsets, and increasingly, a college degree.

Large transit system investments like the MTA R34211 subway contract offer a unique opportunity to stimulate economic growth in hard-hit urban communities still recovering seven years after the Great Recession by prioritizing outreach, training and hiring efforts to disadvantaged workers, including veterans, individuals with criminal records and the long-term unemployed.

Public supports training/hiring low-income workers

The good news is there is strong public support for using publicly-funded projects like this one to target jobs to low-income workers and those who have been disproportionately affected by poverty.

In our latest Unheard Third survey, the Community Service Society asked New Yorkers if they support ensuring that large public works projects like the MTA’s R34211 procurement — the largest subway purchase in the New York City MTA’s history – include incentives for “training and local hiring, especially of low-income workers.” Sixty-seven percent of all respondents, across incomes and demographics, favored this approach and 70 percent of low-income respondents supported it.

The MTA R34211 Request for Proposals (RFP) asks bidders to submit an employment plan for “hiring and training workers” in connection to the contract. Among other requirements, bidders must detail how many jobs they will create and retain, which ones will be filled by skilled and unskilled workers, their plans for developing the skills of new hires and how these skills would be transferable to other emerging manufacturing jobs when the contract is completed.

However, the contract does not include language saying that bidders specifically target disadvantaged workers in their plans.

That’s why the New York “Jobs to Move America (JMA)” coalition, comprised of labor unions, transit advocates, community organizations and workforce development groups, is urging the MTA to consider as part of its evaluation criteria awarding high scores to proposals that feature best practices and strategies that maximize the project’s economic impact. Specifically, we are talking about proposals that at a minimum detail and include plans for recruiting, training and retaining a diverse workforce, as well as clear examples of how they will work with labor, education and community organizations that represent the public interest and can lend their expertise to the company carrying out such a plan.

Proposals that are vague about commitments on jobs, training, worker rights and equitable hiring or lack well-defined approaches to recruitment of workers, professional development and collaboration with stakeholder groups should be awarded few points if any.

As a member of the MTA Board, I take very seriously my fiduciary and oversight responsibility that public funds for critical capital projects are spent wisely and efficiently. Of course, when Mayor de Blasio recommended me to the MTA Board, and Governor Cuomo nominated me, they certainly knew what they were getting: an unabashed advocate for the working poor.

So it should not surprise anyone that I join with New York JMA in calling on MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast to consider all of the ways New York taxpayers can get value for their investment in this public procurement. Because frankly, to not use contracts of this magnitude to create entry points for impoverished workers facing significant barriers to employment is a missed opportunity to spur economic growth for those who need it the most.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer.

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