D.C. Council chairman proposes higher residency requirements for city contractors

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 7:28 PM

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown introduced a far-reaching proposal Tuesday that would require city contractors to guarantee that at least 20 percent of their workforce lives in the city, a percentage that grows dramatically for construction projects.

Brown's legislation would not only overhaul a 1984 law that set hiring requirements for District contractors but also would set the stage for a debate over how to lower the city's high unemployment rate.

Called the First Source Employment Agreement, the law requires businesses that receive a city contract to ensure that at least 51 percent of new hires for a project will be District residents.

Brown (D-At Large), who campaigned last year on putting city residents back to work, wants to expand the program by imposing new residency requirements that up to 70 percent of some types of workers on construction sites would be District residents, regardless of when they were hired.

"Now we are saying it's not just about new workers, it's about making sure all hours of work are a certain percentage of D.C. residents, and putting real teeth behind it," Brown said.

Brown's proposal comes as he and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) seek to fulfill campaign promises to toughen First Source and reform a city bureaucracy they say has not done enough to prepare District residents for jobs.

Last week, Gray received a report from his transition team on suggestions for improving workforce development. By introducing his bill Tuesday, Brown appears to be positioning the council out front of the issue.

When a reporter asked Brown if Gray had been briefed on the bill, the chairman replied: "Why would we run it by him? We are the legislative branch of government."

"My staff has talked with his [staff], and gave them the bill," Brown said.

Under Brown's proposal "each government-assisted project or contract" worth $300,000 or more would have to agree that 20 percent of non-construction-related staff work is done by a city resident.

The requirements, which are making some business leaders uneasy, grow even more stringent on construction contractors who would work on projects such as the new Walter E. Washington Convention Center hotel.

According to the bill, which was co-introduced by Council members Michael A. Brown(I-At Large) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) , at least 25 percent of "journey worker" hours would have to be performed by city residents. A journey worker is a highly skilled laborer with two to four years of apprenticeship experience.

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