02.23.21

SCHUMER, GILLIBRAND URGE DOT TO IMPLEMENT LOCAL HIRE PILOT PROGRAM FOR HIGHWAY AND OTHER INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

As Communities Across New York State Rethink Highway Infrastructure, Senators Push For Program To Allow State And Local Governments To Invest In Good-Paying Jobs With A Focus On Local Residents, Especially From Disadvantaged And Underrepresented Communities Modeled After SEP-14 Policy 

Local Hire Program Would Allow States And Localities To Work With Labor And Community Leaders To Ensure Job Opportunities On U.S. DOT-funded Construction Projects — Including The I-81 Viaduct In Syracuse — For Local Residents, Struggling Workers In Nearby Communities 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the DOT to implement a new local hire program that would allow state and local governments to use targeted hiring programs that connect local workers — especially in disadvantaged and underrepresented communities — to construction jobs created by DOT-funded infrastructure projects. The program is modeled after the 2015 Special Experimental Project No. 14 (SEP-14), which incentivized state and local governments to institute local hiring preferences for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) contracts. As New York State rebuilds from the pandemic and works towards revitalizing its aging infrastructure, the new local hire program would allow the federal government, states, localities, labor, and community organizations to work together to offer training through pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship programs to expand access to new job opportunities for local residents, including in communities that have been historically harmed by the often racist legacy of the federal highway system or excluded from opportunities. 

“As the nation rebuilds from the COVID pandemic and reckons with our long history of institutional racism, we must prioritize policies that build back our economy with a focus on racial equity, inclusion, investment in struggling communities, and good jobs. A new local hire program advances these priorities, promoting robust economic opportunity in communities nationwide and helping to ensure these opportunities are made available to workers in the many lower-income areas and communities of color harmed by the often racist legacy of the federal highway system and other exclusionary policies,” said Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. “Such a program would allow a state or locality, in which a highway removal project or other major federally-funded construction project was taking place the ability to implement its own hiring preferences. Under the pilot program’s language, the state or locality, along with organized labor, may choose to base these preferences on geographic, income, minority, or veteran status. This will allow massive, federally-supported construction projects to benefit the local contractors and workers, including women, veterans and minority-owned businesses that have been historically excluded from traditional bidding processes.”

In addition to the immediate implementation of the local hire program, Schumer and Gillibrand are calling for consideration of a permanent regulation to incentivize the use of targeted hiring programs that connect disadvantaged and underrepresented workers to good jobs created by federally-funded infrastructure projects. 

The senators continued, “(W)hile we would like to see a new local hire program implemented as quickly as possible, we believe this should only be a bridge to a permanent policy in which DOT replaces the regulation that currently impedes the use of geographic preferences and with a new regulation that incentivizes targeted hiring across its infrastructure investment programs. These new regulations could also serve to expand targeted hiring across federal infrastructure programs in other federal agencies.” 

Schumer and Gillibrand have been vocal advocates of innovative projects to tear down and replace highways to reconnect communities. They continue to push for federal resources for key New York Infrastructure projects including the I-81 viaduct in Syracuse, Inner Loop in Rochester, Kensington Expressway in Buffalo, I-787 in Albany, the LINC project to address the Memorial Highway in New Rochelle,  the Sheridan Highway in the Bronx, and more — and they have called on Transportation Secretary Buttigieg to visit and support these ongoing projects. Additionally, Senator Gillibrand previously introduced the Build Local, Hire Local Act of 2019, legislation that would make bold reforms to federal infrastructure programs, create good-paying jobs, and work to right the wrongs of decades of disinvestment and exclusionary federal policies that have cut off communities of color and marginalized populations from opportunity in urban and rural areas alike. Local hire and federal resources to rebuild local communities are also central provisions of the Economic Justice Act, legislation that Schumer and Gillibrand introduced last year to invest more than $435 billion to address systemic racism and underinvestment in communities of color.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

We write to request that the Department of Transportation (DOT) implement a new local hire pilot program for DOT-funded construction projects, partially modeled on the 2015 Special Experimental Project No. 14 (SEP-14) that allowed state and local governments to institute local hiring preferences for contracts awarded using funds from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). While it is critical to re-launch the local hire pilot as soon as possible, we also request that DOT, working with the Office of Management and Budget, consider a more permanent policy change that would eliminate the prohibition on geographic preferences in federal awards and create a substitute regulation that will incentivize the use of targeted hiring programs that connect disadvantaged and underrepresented workers to good jobs created by federally-funded infrastructure projects.

As the nation rebuilds from the COVID pandemic and reckons with our long history of institutions racism, we must prioritize policies that build back our economy with a focus on racial equity, inclusion, investment in struggling communities, and good jobs. A new local hire program advances these priorities, promoting robust economic opportunity in communities nationwide and helping to ensure these opportunities are made available to workers in the many lower-income areas and communities of color harmed by the often racist legacy of the federal highway system and other exclusionary policies.

As you are aware, the construction of highways during the 1950s and 1960s disproportionately targeted Black and brown neighborhoods across the country. Portions of our highway system were purposefully constructed with disregard to the detrimental impacts this would have on vibrant and historic communities of color and working class neighborhoods, driving a wedge through lower-income and minority neighborhoods that displaced residents, closed businesses, lowered home property values, and destroyed sense of community. In New York State alone, highway structures such as the I-81 viaduct in Syracuse, Inner Loop in Rochester, Kensington Expressway in Buffalo, I-787 in Albany, Memorial Highway in New Rochelle, and the Sheridan Highway in the Bronx, among others, uprooted and disconnected thousands of people, and today continue to physically, economically, and symbolically divide the cities through which they were built.

However, we are presented with a unique opportunity to begin to right historical wrongs as much of America’s highway infrastructure constructed more than a half century ago nears the end of its useful lifespan.  We can reimagine and rebuild our transportation infrastructure with a new focus on equity, inclusion, the environment, and investment in these impacted communities. Cities across the United States have already begun rebuilding or removing highway structures with this intent, and many other cities are preparing to follow suit. Infrastructure projects of such massive size and scope require billions of dollars in federal funding. The federal government has an opportunity to ensure that our investment in these projects seizes on the opportunity to create thousands of new good-paying jobs in communities most in need of investment and jobs.

Instituting a local hiring pilot program for federally-funded construction, similar to SEP-14, is an immediate way to do this. Such a program would allow a state or locality in which a highway removal project or other major federally-funded construction project was taking place the ability to implement its own hiring preferences. Under the pilot program’s language, the state or locality may choose to base these preferences on geographic, income, minority, or veteran status. This will allow massive, federally-supported construction projects to benefit the local contractors and workers, including women, veterans and minority-owned business that have been historically excluded from traditional bidding processes. In developing a program, we request that you also work with labor unions and community organizations to utilize pre-apprenticeship programs that lead to registered apprenticeship that ensure individuals who benefit from local hire are put on a path to a good-paying career in the trades. 

Furthermore, while we would like to see a new local hire program implemented as quickly as possible, we believe this should only be a bridge to a permanent policy in which DOT replaces the regulation that currently impedes the use of geographic preferences and with a new regulation that incentivizes targeted hiring across its infrastructure investment programs. These new regulations could also serve to expand targeted hiring across federal infrastructure programs in other federal agencies. 

As we seek to transform our country’s crumbling infrastructure, create good jobs for struggling workers and hard-hit communities, and address systemic racism, we must ensure that future projects funded by the Department of Transportation help uplift our most marginalized communities and reverse the damage of a long history of exclusionary policies. Instituting a local hiring pilot program and developing permanent targeted hiring policies at DOT can provide critical tools to achieve these goals. We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to hearing your response.

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