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Oct
2016
28

A Boom for Whom? Building Trades Want Nashville’s Growth to Benefit Workers

nashville construction boom

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Nashville is booming. Davidson County’s unemployment rate is the second lowest in the state at 3.8%. And the Nashville Business Journal recently found that the city’s wealthiest zip codes have grown wealthier over the past three years. Unfortunately, they also found the poorest have grown poorer during the same stretch. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Nashville’s poverty rate is at 16.9% despite low unemployment.

Enter Stand Up Nashville, a group of Nashville unions looking to promote “more equitable development”:

The effort marks the partnership of nine organizations, including the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee; the AFL-CIO; Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH); and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, or TIRRC.

In the short term, their focus is on Metro’s use of financial incentives for economic development. They argue city incentives for private business can be leveraged to create better-paying jobs on affected projects — in construction and hospitality, for example — and also help fund the creation of affordable housing for Nashvillians. They also say opportunities exist for workforce programs and apprenticeship programs to be a part of projects that receive the city’s help.

For a basic template, the organization’s leaders look to Denver, CO:

[That] city in recent years oversaw an agreement involving a mixed-use project at the site of an abandoned rubber plant that resulted in affordable housing and living wages for construction jobs.

“For the last several years, we’ve had this boom. The city has grown tremendously, but we’ve seen very little growth and benefit for working families in Nashville,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of TIRRC, which advocates for immigrants and refugees in Nashville.

Nashville isn’t the only town that needs to bring local residents into the fold. Several large development projects in Detroit, MI have failed meet local hiring standards:

Less than half of the hundreds of workers building Little Caesars Arena have been Detroit residents, according to data provided by the city Tuesday. The total is 41 percent since work started on the arena in spring 2015 and getting lower — just 33 percent of the workers on the site in July were Detroiters, the latest month for which data is available.

Local hiring benchmarks aren’t being met on a multitude of projects, from the QLine light rail system, to hospital expansions and building renovations around the city.

The lack of local workers on these projects is a major political issue in Detroit. There are two proposals to address the problem on the ballot this November. But Detroit unions, developers, and contractors say a big part of the problem is a shortage of trained workers:

“There is no shortage of talent or work ethic or desire in Detroit,” the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights said in a statement. “But there is a shortage of people with the particular skills and certifications.”

Stand up, Detroit.

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