Tuesday, November 19, 2019


When an infrastructure project is started in an area, it’s usually an inconvenience to the local community — sidewalks are closed, detours are enforced, businesses are affected.

For the neighborhoods enduring these obstacles, especially the neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, what can be just as painful as adjusting to the inconveniences that come with these projects is watching people from outside of your community come in from miles away to fill a job that you were qualified for.

It’s the knowledge that the very construction jobs that are causing these obstacles are not prioritized for those forced to live with the consequences of the project.

When a new infrastructure project is started in South Los Angeles, it should be our community who gets the first shot at the new jobs associated with completing the project. The same should be said for a project in Atlanta, Georgia or Topeka, Kansas.

It should be so nationwide.

In July, I joined Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in introducing a sweeping infrastructure package to reform federal infrastructure programs and projects. The Build Local Hire Local Act would help raise wages and labor standards, invest in American manufacturing, and create new opportunities for Americans who are struggling to get high-quality jobs — especially those living in areas that experience frequent infrastructure activity.

To build an American economy that works for everyone, we must enact a comprehensive infrastructure initiative that looks at employment. Our bill is a commonsense step for our government to make it easier for companies to generate jobs in the very counties and states where their transportation projects are located — it provides necessary flexibility for transportation agencies to implement geographically targeted hiring for procurement preferences.

In addition to spurring local job creation through federally funded transit projects nationwide, the Build Local Hire Local Act ensures that construction and operation jobs contribute to local economic development of cities and towns where transportation projects exist.

That means this bill can also be used as a tool by local and state agencies to address unemployment in some of the hardest hit areas of our country. That’s the power of the flexibility that this bill allows.

The bill also provides pathways to careers in construction, specialty trades and other infrastructure jobs through a new $5 billion program to support training partnerships led by unions, community organizations, and education and training providers.

Especially crucial in ensuring that communities benefit from these projects is the participation of organized labor. The Build Local Hire Local Act encourages the use of best-value contracting, registered apprenticeships and neutrality in union organizing to ensure projects place a premium not just on the bottom line but also on the quality of jobs.

The bill also dedicates investment to struggling areas and connects communities to greater opportunity through new performance measures and data on accessibility to transportation.

Now is the time for Members on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to come together and fundamentally change the way our infrastructure system is set up to work for this country. It’s time to ensure that our communities benefit from the projects in them

Rep. Karen Bass, Los Angeles Democrat, serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where she is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. She is also Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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