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

David R. Jones | 9/8/2016, 11 a.m.
Today companies competing for a $3.2 billion Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) contract to produce more than 1,000 subway cars, with ...
David R. Jones Contributed

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.