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Big Metro projects will offer jobs to disadvantaged workers

January 26, 2012 |  5:07 pm

This post has been corrected. See below for details.

Seeking to improve employment in Los Angeles County, local transportation officials on Thursday approved a program designed to hire workers from disadvantaged communities for road and transit projects.

The board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority authorized the use of so-called project labor agreements, which require that 40% of the work hours performed on most MTA projects are done by people who live in economically disadvantaged communities across the country. Of that 40%, at least 10% are reserved for people suffering from homelessness, chronic unemployment or other challenges.

"I am proud that the MTA board voted unanimously to become the first transit agency in the nation to use federal and local dollars to create jobs targeted at economically disadvantaged communities and individuals," said MTA board Chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "This landmark program is part of a strategy to deliver public transit projects while creating jobs that will lift people out of poverty and into the middle class."

Because of the federal money involved, the projects must be open to economically disadvantaged communities nationwide.

Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate at the end of 2011 stood at 11.9%, a decline from 13% in 2010. Job growth has been slow, however, with only 10,400 new positions created in the county during the last year.

Projects that cost at least $10 million will require a labor agreement. Such agreements also would bar program workers from striking and MTA contractors from locking employees out.

The opportunities to put the disadvantaged to work are significant, considering that the MTA plans to spend tens of billions of dollars in the years ahead for transportation projects, including the Westside subway extension, highway improvements, several light rail lines, and a regional connector for commuter rail service in downtown Los Angeles.

"As a result of this  groundbreaking victory,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, an MTA board member, “Los Angeles is now a model for the rest of the nation. We have demonstrated that job creation -- and not the creation of just any jobs, but highly skilled union jobs that lead to a middle class lifestyle for workers -- can and should be a standard component in transportation infrastructure projects."

[For the record, 7:41 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the percentage of work hours that must done by people who live in economically disadvantaged communities.]

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-- Dan Weikel

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