Jersey City Council advances new 20% PLA to benefit minorities, women

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The Jersey City Council advanced an ordinance that would mandate Public Labor Agreements to include at least 20 percent of the project workforce to include local women and minorities, though the Jersey City NAACP isn’t on board.

“The unions are going to be a signatory to the PLA, through the Hudson County Building and Trades Council, and they would be entering into an agreement with the developer – against a financial incentive such as a redevelopment area bond or tax abatement,” explained Jersey City Assistant Corporation Counsel John Hallanan III.

“ … I just want to say that number [20 percent] was not brought up out of the air, it was what the unions believe is adequate and deliverable,” the former Ward B councilman added.

The measure in front of the council was a necessity after a federal judge ruled last month that the city’s current labor law regulations violated federal code.

The city already requires developers with projects that cost over $25 million and have long-term tax breaks to enter into PLAs with labor unions seeking to do construction work on such projects.

Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson said he was more concerned about the city’s Office of Compliance being able to do their due diligence and issue fines when and where they are necessary.

Ward B Councilman Chris Gadsden wanted to know if the court had found the city’s current PLA structure to be unconstitutional, to which Hallanan responded that the ruling was “somewhat ambiguous.”

“Now I just want to make it clear: the ruling is somewhat ambiguous … it’s clear we can’t do it going forward, it’s somewhat ambiguous if it stops any PLAs currently in effect, I don’t think we’ve gotten any clarity on that,” adding that the court didn’t specifically say that the 70 projects currently in effect had been halted.

Councilwoman-at-Large Joyce Watterman wanted to know if there was room to increase that number to 23 percent, as per the request of the local chapter of the NAACP, but Hallanan said that was up to the unions – who could back out if the figure was increased above 20 percent.

Additionally, Council President Rolando Lavarro wanted more specifics regarding the changes that would potentially be made if the ordinance passed.

“We have to have some financial stake in their project. The city had been operating under the assumption, the court has now struck down, that a tax abatement was that financial incentive,” Hallanan noted.

“That we have been treating financial agreements, pursuant to long-term and short-term tax exemption statutes, as a subsidy. The court has been very clear: it is not a subsidy, so we cannot use that as a trick.”

Eventually, the council unanimously approved the 1st reading of the measure (9-0).

Despite this fact, Rev. Willie Keaton, Jr., the chair of the labor and industry committee for the Jersey City NACCP, blasted the current ordinance in front of the council, saying the concerns brought forth by the group, specifically the years-old Croson study, were ignored.

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