Of Course HSR Work Should Go To People Who Most Need It
The California high speed rail project is not just a transformative piece of transportation infrastructure. It’s also an important economic stimulus, especially in the Central Valley which has still not yet recovered from the Great Recession. The California High Speed Rail Authority has taken laudable steps to pay good wages and include disadvantaged workers in the construction, to ensure that some of the people most in need get direct benefits from the project. In typical fashion, some California Republicans are criticizing those steps:
“There’s another chapter in the high-speed fail saga, and I almost can’t do this one with a straight face,” Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, said in a recent installment of “Are You Kidding Me?” a video series in which Jones vents political frustrations. “What a social engineering disaster this is going to be, and add to California’s laughingstock reputation.”…
Opposition to the rail authority’s new hiring policy is partly ideological. Jones scoffed last week at “some of the liberals up here in Sacramento” and said that “when you’re building a high-technology system like this … you should be hiring the people that are most qualified, not the most disadvantaged.”
And people wonder why California Republicans are struggling. The point here isn’t to give out a job to just anyone. It’s to find ways to ensure that among the qualified candidates are those who have the most need, including those who never finished high school, who are currently homeless, or who have been convicted of a crime. Rather than treat such people as outcasts, it’s better for a community and for an economy to help them share in the prosperity that the project will create.
Jones’s comments weren’t the only critical ones out there:
Another criticism has nothing to do with the policy itself, but with its inclusion in a broader agreement that even rail officials acknowledge is a form of Project Labor Agreement negotiated with labor organizers.
Under the broader Community Benefits Agreement, non-union subcontractors could work on the project, but only if they agree to wage and working conditions typically afforded union workers.
Again, those are very good things to include on a project, helping protect workers on the job and giving them good wages that will ripple throughout these communities. The Central Valley needs jobs, but they also need good jobs that pay good wages. Jobs that come with cheap wages won’t actually do very much to help stimulate economic recovery there.
CHSRA CEO Jeff Morales put it well:
“We’ve got unemployed, skilled workers in the Central Valley where we’re going to be doing construction,” Morales said. “Let’s do everything we can to try to get those people back to work, train other people to take on the kind of work and generate as many jobs and help make a dent in that unemployment rate in the Valley.”
Amen to that. I’m glad to see the Authority is pursuing this approach and hope they keep at it, even if members of a small fringe political party don’t like it.