Elected officials in the largest city in western Massachusetts are trying to build a closer working relationship with organized labor unions.
Springfield City Council President Justin Hurst has formed the Workforce Issues Ad Hoc Committee which he said in a statement is “designed to work with organized labor unions to identify and address labor-related issues affecting the workforce in both the public and private sector.”
Newly-elected City Councilor Victor Davila was appointed to chair the committee. Davila said he lobbied to create the ad-hoc panel because while campaigning last year he heard complaints that union tradespeople were being shut out of local construction jobs.
" I realized during the campaign that organized labor did not have a unified way to express concerns to City Hall," said Davila.
The objectives of the committee are to meet regularly with labor unions to ensure an open line of communication with City Hall, and to coordinate with appropriate city departments and other City Council committees as labor issues arise.
" We need to protect the labor workforce, " said Davila. " And Springfield first. I want Springfield jobs to go to Springfield residents particularly if there is a TIF or ( public ) money involved."
More than a decade ago, Springfield adopted the Responsible Employer Ordinance. It requires contractors on publicly-financed construction projects exceeding $500,000 to provide employment to Springfield residents for 35 percent of the project hours. There is a requirement for minority employment of 20 percent, 6.9 percent to women, and 5 percent to veterans.
Last year, the City Council voted to require any developer who gets a property tax break known as a TIF, for tax increment financing, to adhere to the workforce requirements of the Responsible Employer Ordinance.
But, Davila said he’s heard complaints that enforcement of the employment requirements has been lax.
Fiore Grassetti, a business agent with the Iron Workers union and past-president of the Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council, said the ad hoc committee will help to get more attention paid to labor-related issues.
"These decisions being made out there affect residents in the city and we need to have a place to go and get everybody educated at once," said Grassetti.
After an organizational meeting this week with about 20 labor union officials and workers’ rights activists attending, the committee expects to meet about every three months.