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Anti-Worker Lobby Fights Hiring Mandates Aimed at Helping Former Felons, Addicts, Disabled

Carol Bowen (ABC)

Carol Bowen (ABC)

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A Florida bill that would ban local governments from entering into Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) was shot down by a 6-1 margin, only to be saved with a procedural move by the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Jeff Brandes.  How, exactly, did he accomplish this feat? By voting against the measure himself.

This allowed Brandes, who is in the majority, to ask that the bill be reconsidered, a request which was granted by Chairman Wilton Simpson.  The bill, SB 934, is now in a state of political limbo.

The bill’s chief lobbying supporter is the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC), which works to ban PLAs nationwide. They have consistently endorsed Brandes in elections. The Tampa Bay Tribune singled out Brandes in a January 2015 article, “After Political Contributions, Donors Will Expect Access to Florida Lawmakers,” that questioned the motivations of Florida’s leaders.  Brandes brought in $1.4 million to win his senate seat in the closely contested 22nd district, making him the largest beneficiary of private and corporate donations of anyone running for Florida office in 2014.

What is perhaps most alarming are the words of Carol Bowen, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Associated Builders & Contractors, who shamed former felons, addicts, and disabled people seeking work. In her testimony before the Senate Community Affairs Committee, Bowen argued:

“You have to hire from certain ZIP codes, you have to hire from groups deemed hard to hire.  That includes folks who are felons. That includes folks who are recovering addicts. That includes folks with physical impairments.”

Bowen attempted to justify her remarks:

“More pre-bid mandates put on companies … the fewer companies who are able to actually bid a project,” Bowen said. “The result is you decrease competition and increase prices.”

The reality for the ABC is that these “mandates” (some would call them honorable hiring goals) eliminate many of the contractors they lobby for from the bidding process because they are unwilling to pay good wages, hire locally, and support apprenticeships and skills training.

PLAs often include language that requires contractors to hire from specific areas in which unemployment is high or to hire returning military veterans seeking to transition to civilian life.  Giving opportunities to these workers provides tremendous community benefits; benefits these communities deserve for either utilizing local money or living with long-term disruptions related to construction. Training a new corps of local workers means a budding local economy rife with families spending money where they live and work.

Objecting to PLAs based on free market ideology is one thing, but publicly shaming low-income and disabled workers who are trying to turn their lives around shows utter contempt for the common good. 

Democratic State Sen. Joe Abruzzo noted the discriminatory nature of SB 934, saying, “I’ve seen, as we all have, lot of bills come through this process, and this in my personal opinion by far one of the worst.”

If the bill comes up again in committee, Abruzzo insists he will fight it:

“I do plan on filing an amendment in the next stop … I’m simply going to retitle your bill the anti-worker, anti-Florida family, anti-local community, anti-minority, anarchist act.”


One Comment on “Anti-Worker Lobby Fights Hiring Mandates Aimed at Helping Former Felons, Addicts, Disabled”

  1. I find it hard to believe that anyone would be so ignorant as to not understand the issue at hand. I would like to know how ANY construction company could hire a person in a wheel chair to climb steel and weld bar joists. Simply not possible, NOT discrimination. How about we do some construction work on Joe’s house and only hire felons or addicts. I wonder if abruzzo would champion a bill that would have insurance companies lower their rates as our rates would increase with regard to added workplace drug policies and drug testing. Sure let’s make it more expensive for us to get projects. The type of projects that ABC contractors perform are significant projects and we can not hire people who do not have the requisite capabilities to perform the work efficiently AND SAFELY. Apparently, unlike the state house, we need ALL of our employees to be qualified. The “slant” of this article only goes to prove the ignorance of the writer and this blog with regard to construction industry as a whole.

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