Building Opportunity

Investing in local and disadvantaged residents with Community Workforce Agreements

The City of San Jose is projected to invest $1.42 billion over the next five years in public construction projects.

Yet the City currently has no provisions in place to direct those taxpayer dollars towards tackling one of the biggest challenges facing our communities: access to good, middle-wage jobs and career pathways.

Our analysis of payroll records for a sample of recent projects found that historically under-represented groups have largely been left out of these public construction projects and the career opportunities they represent.

Few local workers

Local residents were a small minority of the workforce on the City projects. Only one-quarter of workers on the projects studied lived in San Jose. Another 9% lived elsewhere in Santa Clara County, leaving nearly two-thirds of the workforce coming from outside the county. The average worker lived 57 miles away from their worksite.

These long commutes — totaling an estimated 1.66 million vehicle miles — impact our neighborhoods and environment. And relying on a largely non-local workforce means that instead of generating career pathway opportunities and wages that circulate in the local area, our taxpayer dollars are flowing out the door.

Commute to Project Sites

  • Worker living in San Jose
  • Worker living outside of San Jose

Under-represented communities

Out of a sample of 795 workers employed on City of San Jose public construction projects between 2014 and 2016:

  • 15 workers (1.9%) were Asian or Pacific Islander
  • 5 workers (0.6%) were Black or African-American
  • 6 workers (0.8%) were women

Wage disparities

Latino workers faced a different challenge. While they made up the majority of the workforce sampled on City of San Jose public projects, Latinos earned just over half as much while on the projects as white workers did.

On public construction projects, all workers in the same job classification must be paid at least a standardized "prevailing wage," so this disparity is likely not due to a direct pay differential.

Instead, it's the result of two factors: Latino workers were concentrated in lower-wage jobs, and the average white worker received more work-hours on the projects than the average Latino worker.

Solution: Community Workforce Agreements

A Community Workforce policy for major public construction projects would open up high-quality construction careers to low-income residents, youth, veterans, immigrant and communities of color, all while building the skilled local workforce we need to meet the City’s long-term construction demand.

CWAs ensure that taxpayer-funded construction projects create good jobs, by incorporating provisions for targeted hiring of disadvantaged or under-represented local residents, often as entry-level apprentices. They are an innovative type of Project Labor Agreement, a construction industry collective bargaining agreement.

Learn more about CWAs

Photo: Dawn Jones Redstone/Tradeswomen Image Library