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Mass. Senate passes jobs access bill

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO

The Massachusetts State Senate has passed Senate Bill 2386, a modified version of a bill introduced by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) to help ensure public, taxpayer-funded projects are creating local jobs and promoting workforce diversity.      

“This bill addresses one of the greatest frustrations I hear from constituents: public construction projects are happening in their neighborhoods, but the jobs for these projects are going elsewhere,” said Chang-Diaz in a statement about the bill. Entitled “An Act to ensure transparency of workforce participation in public construction contracts,” the bill passed in the Senate July 30.

As it is now, Massachusetts has no system in place for consistently tracking whether state-funded projects are creating local jobs, meeting workforce diversity goals or utilizing minority- and women-owned businesses (MBEs/WBEs).

The new bill aims to create economic incentives for companies to increase workforce diversity and increase accountability and transparency within the public contracting system, from the initial bidding process through project completion.

The bill will:

• Establish stated policy to include workforce diversity goals in all state-funded construction projects;

• Require the state to develop a website and post quarterly performance numbers, contract by contract, so the public can judge the state’s and contractors’ performance on hiring diversity and local job creation while a project is still underway;

• Mandate that state construction agencies evaluate bidders’ past performance in achieving the workforce diversity goals agreed to in their contracts; and

• Make past diversity performance a factor in evaluating bidders’ future eligibility for state-funded contracts.

“None of the workers or contractors who support this bill are looking for a hand out,” said Chang-Diaz. “They just want a fair shot at competing for the work that builds up their own communities. They just want to get a foot in the door and have the person doing the hiring look up from the resumes of the same people they’ve always done business with for decades and say, ‘Hey, I’m here, I’m qualified, and I’m invested in this community. Give me a try.’”

The original bill, “An Act to create equitable jobs access,” was introduced last October. Many of that bill’s key provisions remain, though the original version also included a requirement that the state give preference to joint ventures. This measure, meant to help smaller contractors get in on large projects and start building their businesses and reputations, is not in the current version.

A broad coalition has formed around the jobs access bill as it has come through the legislative process. Supporters include Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, Boston City Councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley, Brockton City Councilor Jass Stewart, Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, the Center for Women and Enterprise, Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston Workers Alliance, Massachusetts Communities Action Network, Massachusetts Minority Contractors Association, Mel King Institute for Community Building, Massachusetts Tradeswomen Association, Karl Nurse Communications, Nexus Alliance, D’Ventures Limited, LLC, and the Union of Minority Neighborhoods.

Chang-Diaz said in a phone interview that the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus is working now to get the bill on the House agenda.

She cited the grassroots efforts of a broad coalition of advocates around the state as crucial in getting the bill this far in a relatively short time. She expressed a keen desire to have it become law sooner rather than later.

“It would be such a huge shame if we got it this far and didn’t get it through the House at this juncture. We would have to wait and start over from the beginning in the next session [in January],” she said. “We’re so close, and we have to keep pushing.”