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Walsh and Labor Advocate Push for More Local Jobs for I-81 Project

WAER File Photo

Syracuse’s Mayor Ben Walsh and a local jobs advocate are lending their voices to a move to allow more local workers to take part in federally funded public works projects. Jobs to Move America is trying to lift a 30-year-old ban on any geographic hiring requirements in road, bridge or other projects that get federal money.

Walsh created a program to train workers for the I-81 project that could run up against that ban.

“What we’re trying to use Syracuse Builds for is the conduit for a pathways to apprenticeship program in partnership with local labor. But we also know there have historically been barriers in the trade particularly to communities of color,” he said.

Walsh says lifting of the ban would help some of the thousands of jobs for the I-81 project to go to local people. Deka Dancil with the Urban Jobs Task Force has been trying to find ways around the federal ban against local hiring in Syracuse. Her group did a study that showed the racial disparities of government-funded projects.  It showed 87% of workers on such projects were white, while the city population is only 49% white.

“It’s time that we move beyond business as usual, and we use these projects also as vehicles to correct the racial, environmental and economic injustices in their initial builds. The call for justice has been knocking on the door quite a bit in the past year, and this is just one way for our new administration to answer,” Dancil said.

Jobs to Move America also did some research. They examined a pilot project which suspended the local hiring ban. Program Director Christy Veeder looked at whether a local jobs provision hurt bids on a public project.

“What we found is that there was no difference in number of bidders or bid price for projects that had local hire compared to projects that did not,” Vedeer said. “For the projects that did have local hire, in pretty much every case, the number of bidders was equal to or greater than the number of bidders on non-local hire projects.”

The group is hoping the Biden administration will follow that finding and lift the ban on local hiring language in contracts.  They say it would channel a portion of $90-100 billion of investments in public projects back into local economies and workers.