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Isle workers should be used for public projects


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

“;Local jobs for local people.”;

Simply put, this slogan could have a profound impact on the sustainability of our island community.

In these tough times, many families are finding it hard to make ends meet. Solutions seem to be in short supply, but making sure that local construction jobs are filled by local residents could make a huge difference in our immediate economic recovery and continued growth.

The city and state continue to put contracts out to bid for projects, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for local workers to compete for jobs, especially when mainland companies win the bid and bring mainland workers to Hawaii to fill the positions. We have all seen the commercials showing how this is the case with Aloha Stadium, where millions of construction payroll dollars will be spent somewhere on the mainland instead of here at home.

Government contracts can help rebuild our state's economy if the money stays here at home. Project labor agreements, or PLAs, require that government contract jobs be filled with local hires. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama signed an executive order encouraging the use of PLAs on federal projects, saying they promote efficient and timely completion of large-scale projects.

Detractors of PLAs claim that they are discriminatory and contrary to the principles of free enterprise. However, a study conducted by three major universities found that PLAs actually had no effect on the number of bidders on a project, and that the cost of a project was not directly correlated to the existence of an agreement but rather the complexity of the project.

If local government contracts are awarded to companies that use labor from the mainland, our tax dollars will help other municipalities, not our own. Outsourcing labor may appear to cut costs, but in the long run it has a negative impact. Mainland workers earn paychecks here but spend the bulk of the money and pay income taxes in their home states, money that supports their state's economy and not ours.

Let's take, for example, a transit station for the rail project. If a construction company is awarded the contract for this station but goes to sources on the mainland for cheaper labor, how does that help stimulate our local economy? The economic stimulus of rail is primarily the creation of jobs. What have we accomplished if our local labor force is not utilized? We are providing jobs for workers from other states, like those working on refurbishing Aloha Stadium.

I would like to see a standard PLA be used for all public works projects that go out to bid. Simply put, project labor agreements mean local jobs go to local people.

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Donovan M. Dela Cruz is a Honolulu city councilman, representing District 2, which ranges from Mililani Mauka to the North Shore and around Windward Oahu to Heeia.