Introduction and summary
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the bipartisan infrastructure law, will invest $1.2 trillion to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges, airports, and public transportation systems; support advanced energy technologies and clean water infrastructure; close the digital divide; and modernize the electric grid, among other improvements.1 In addition, these investments will create and sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs and incentivize cities and states to adopt policies to ensure that they deliver quality jobs for local residents from all walks of life and provide good value for the public’s investment.2
The Biden administration is committed to using federal spending to raise standards for working people. The vast majority of IIJA spending is covered by federal construction prevailing wage protections that require corporations to pay market wages and benefits, and the law strengthens requirements to ensure manufactured goods are made in the United States.3 Moreover, the Biden administration is simultaneously undertaking efforts to modernize wage protections, reduce discrimination, and amp up enforcement of legal protections of federally contracted workers.4
Days after the IIJA was signed, President Joe Biden issued an executive order creating a new task force to support his infrastructure implementation priorities, including “improving job opportunities for millions of Americans by focusing on high labor standards for these jobs,” as well as investing public dollars “equitably” and “efficiently.”5
Applicants for IIJA discretionary funds will be judged on their ability to deliver good jobs for local residents and ensure that groups historically excluded from key industries have access to these jobs. The administration has released notices of funding opportunities for IIJA discretionary grants that will fund transit, ports, and highway improvement projects and that require applicants to take concrete steps to meet these goals.6
For example, in its notice of funding opportunity for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant, the U.S. Department of Transportation states that it requires applicants to describe “project delivery and implementation create good-paying jobs with the free and fair choice to join a union to the greatest extent possible, the use of demonstrated strong labor standards, practices and policies (including for direct employees, contractors, and sub-contractors); use of project labor agreements, and distribution of workplace rights notices; the use of Local Hire provisions; registered apprenticeships; or other similar standards or practices.”7
While the federal government is still developing guidance for many other programs, cities and states should be mindful that the presumption of the Biden administration is that infrastructure funding will be used to support and maintain good jobs. For instance, cities and states applying for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program should prioritize funding to retain and retrain existing operations and maintenance staff and to increase access to high-quality training so that the workers installing these systems come from the communities they are working in and are prepared to uphold safe and reliable systems.8
This report lifts up proven strategies that policymakers in jurisdictions across the political spectrum should use to improve job quality on projects that receive federal funds, including expanding and diversifying the pool of workers trained to work on these jobs; requiring publicly supported companies to create good jobs and expand access for women, workers of color, and disabled and LGBTQI+ workers, who have historically been excluded from the sector; and establishing oversight mechanisms to ensure the government and companies receiving IIJA funds deliver on these obligations.
Specifically, the report recommends that cities and states:
- Connect workers to good jobs by using IIJA funding to stand up high-quality training programs and requiring beneficiaries to hire local workers, diversify their workforce, and establish welcoming work environments.
- Establish project-specific agreements in order to support workforce quality, safety, and stability; ensure investments benefit the local economy; and help guarantee on-target and on-budget completion of projects.
- Screen contractors for responsibility to weed out companies with histories of violating workplace laws and other regulatory protections as well as those lacking critical programs to support workforce stability.
- Enforce wage and equity standards with ongoing monitoring and partnerships with trusted worker and community organizations.
The Center for American Progress has previously released several reports on innovative state and local strategies to raise standards on government-funded work; expand the universe of workers who enter and stay in the construction industry to include more women, workers of color, disabled workers, and LGBTQI+ Americans; ensure that only well-qualified, responsible bidders win government funds; prevent disruptions on projects due to labor disputes or shortages; and enforce critical protections already on the books.9
By adopting these recommendations, state and local policymakers will improve their chances of receiving discretionary IIJA grants and support good value for all public investments; maintain high standards across key industries and ensure local employers benefit; and prepare a diverse generation of workers to replace retiring Baby Boomers, thereby supporting the long-term economic mobility of thousands of workers. By examining the experiences of jurisdictions across the political spectrum already taking these critical steps, it becomes clear that these pragmatic and valuable policies will benefit workers and local economies immensely.
Pro-worker IIJA implementation strategies
State and local policymakers should use the once-in-a-generation IIJA funds to support investments that connect workers to good jobs; establish project-specific agreements to support workforce stability and local benefits; screen all bidders for responsibility; and enforce wage and equity standards with monitoring and partnerships. To the extent possible, cities and states should attach these requirements to all projects that receive IIJA funding as well as other types of government support in order to raise standards for workers and support good value on all public investments.
Connect workers to good jobs
Increasingly, cities and states are connecting workers to good jobs by investing in high-quality training, including registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, to expand and diversify the pool of local workers entering key industries as well as requiring that publicly supported work provides employment opportunity for these workers. State and local policymakers should use IIJA funding to stand up high-quality training programs and require private sector beneficiaries to hire local workers, diversify their workforce, and establish welcoming work environments.
Employers in the construction, manufacturing, and operations and maintenance industries frequently partner with unions to adopt apprenticeship programs that provide a steady pipeline of highly qualified workers. Registered apprenticeship combines classroom instruction with paid on-the-job training. For workers, earning a nationally recognized credential through apprenticeship can lead not only to high-paying jobs but also to opportunities for career advancement and even becoming contractors themselves.10
Yet for too long, women, people of color, LGBTQI+ workers, and disabled workers have been excluded from these jobs.11 While some progress has been made, and registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships funded through labor-management partnerships are helping to increase industry diversity, more needs to be done to both increase the supply of diverse workers entering these professions and ensure that these workers are hired and retained into high-quality industry jobs.12
Governments, unions, and employers are using registered apprenticeship and high-quality pre-apprenticeship opportunities to rectify long-standing inequities and help attract a new generation of workers to these careers.
Increasingly, governments, unions, and employers are using registered apprenticeship and high-quality pre-apprenticeship opportunities to rectify long-standing inequities and help attract a new generation of workers to these careers. And, in industries where robust in-house training is a high-quality alternative to apprenticeship programs, policymakers can promote quality jobs through prioritizing a directly employed, well-trained workforce.
The IIJA includes new and flexible funding that cities and states can leverage to create and expand high-quality training programs. For example, the law will support the creation of training centers for the installation and maintenance of energy-efficient building technologies run in partnership with employers and labor unions and allow the use of surface transportation funds for the establishment of registered apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship programs.
State governments can also leverage existing workforce development funding and programs authorized by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to connect and retain diverse workers to IIJA jobs, or even American Rescue Plan Act funds to target workers disproportionately affected by the pandemic.13
Cities and states should prioritize funding and partnerships with high-quality programs with a proven track record of connecting workers to good jobs and graduating diverse cohorts of workers as well as that include partnerships with worker and community organizations to drive accountability.
For example, California’s High Road Training Partnership initiative—which funds sectoral partnerships that “deliver equity, sustainability, and job quality”—has supported labor-management training partnerships for apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships in electric bus manufacturing, transit, public utilities, and water.14 And the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership—Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program (WRTP BIG STEP) program has a decadeslong track record of helping to build diversity in manufacturing and the trades and connecting workers to family-supporting jobs.15
In addition, several jurisdictions have already facilitated the creation of training centers for the installation and maintenance of energy-efficient building technologies.16 For example, New York City, which enacted legislation requiring large buildings to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, has partnered with local labor unions, including the city’s largest municipal union, and state training programs to retrofit and decarbonize a major source of carbon pollution in the city while creating good, union jobs in low-income communities of color.17
Also in New York City, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ launched its Green Supers program that provides training for its unionized building superintendents on steps that will improve building energy and water usage, indoor air quality, and waste control.18 And now, local advocacy groups are pushing for an expansion of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development in order to provide the coordination, oversight, and tracking necessary to ensure that targeted populations are able to access new clean energy jobs and training programs, particularly those funded through the IIJA.19
Indeed, high-quality training is only effective in so far as it connects workers to a good job that provides opportunity for long-term career development, decent work conditions, and a safe and respectful work environment.
State and local policymakers are increasing equity and access through local hire and apprenticeship utilization policies
Salt Lake County, Utah’s minimum share of workers on publicly funded construction projects who must be apprentices
Washington state’s required minimum share of work on publicly supported construction projects that must be performed by apprentices
25% and 14%
Oregon Metro’s goals for share of work performed on publicly funded projects by people of color and women
San Francisco’s minimum share of total work hours on large public construction projects that must be completed by local residents
Increasingly, cities and states are using apprenticeship and local hire goals and mandates to ensure that publicly supported work is accessible to all new industry entrants. For example, Washington state requires that at least 15 percent of the work on publicly supported construction projects is performed by apprentices, and Salt Lake County, Utah, has established a minimum 10 percent apprenticeship utilization requirement within each trade on publicly funded projects; contractors are fined on an hourly basis for failure to meet the goal.20 And the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority adopted a policy in 2012 that requires that at least 20 percent of employee hours on construction projects be conducted by apprentices and that 10 percent be from disadvantaged communities.21
Some jurisdictions, such as San Francisco and Oregon Metro—the planning council for the Portland metropolitan area—have structured these local hire policies to support both entry of local residents and diverse populations into apprenticeships but also retention of these workers. San Francisco, for example, has significantly expanded access to publicly supported construction projects by mandating that local residents complete 30 percent of a project’s total work hours and 50 percent of its apprenticeship hours and that 25 percent of apprenticeship hours be completed by disadvantaged workers, defined as residents who were earning low incomes at the commencement of work, experiencing barriers to employment, or coming from a census tract with high unemployment.22 Oregon Metro has adopted hiring goals that 25 percent of total worker hours on public projects be performed by people of color, 14 percent by women, with language that is specifically inclusive of transgender and cisgender women, and 20 percent by registered apprentices.23
Transit, road, and bridge construction funded through the IIJA may attach local hire standards to the project. While federal regulations typically bar local hire from being used on other types of grants, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued implementing regulations encouraging their use on American Rescue Plan Act funding for water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure projects in order to promote effective and efficient delivery of high-quality infrastructure projects.24 State and local organizations should monitor agency guidance and notices of funding opportunities for similar allowances.
In industries such as broadband, where the workforce is traditionally trained through in-house training programs,25 state and local policymakers can promote quality jobs by prioritizing employers that will use a directly employed workforce and have robust in-house training tied to career advancement and uniform wage scales. This will help to prevent extensive outsourcing that has led to many low-road subcontractors not providing proper training to workers and not paying quality wages and ensure that federal broadband dollars will go toward creating quality jobs that foster long-term career paths for underrepresented populations.26
Finally, in order to prevent toxic and even illegal behaviors on the work site from driving women, people of color, disabled individuals, and LGTBQI+ people away from construction and manufacturing careers, jurisdictions should require high-quality training to prevent work-site harassment and discrimination and improve job-site culture. For example, Oregon Metro requires that all levels of workers on a job site participate in ongoing training focused on bystander interventions aimed at reducing sexual and racial harassment and bullying.27 The cost of this training could likely be supplemented through IIJA funding as well as long-standing U.S. Department of Labor grants for safety training.28
Establish project-specific agreements to support workforce stability and local benefits
Cities and states should enter into project-specific pre-hire agreements on IIJA-funded projects in order to support workforce quality safety and stability; ensure investments benefit the local economy; and help guarantee on-target and on-budget completion of projects that can take years to complete and employ thousands of workers across various trades and industries.29
For example, project labor agreements (PLAs) establish wages, benefits, and other terms of employment across an entire project. PLAs are commonly used in the private sector and by state and local governments to ensure that projects uphold fair standards for workers; prevent high-road firms from being underbid by contractors that cut corners in project quality, such as by paying below-market wages; and avoid costly delays and disruptions due to labor shortages or unrest.
New York state, Maryland, Connecticut, and Washington state all require in-state renewable energy projects to enter into these sorts of agreements.30 For example, after Washington enacted legislation conditioning receipt of renewable clean energy tax incentives on adherence to high-road labor practices—such as the use of PLAs—Clearway Energy Group constructed the first utility-scale renewable energy facility built using a PLA in the state, a 57-turbine, 160-megawatt wind farm.31
And in Virginia, Dominion Energy announced that it was entering into a PLA with three labor unions as part of its Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project; the General Assembly enacted requirements that utilities developing offshore wind capacity submit plans to prioritize the hiring and apprenticeship of local workers, veterans, and historically economically disadvantaged communities.32
Several IIJA grant funding notices include a preference for applicants that adopt a PLA and other sorts of project-specific pre-hire agreements.33 Even in communities that have adopted strong across-the-board standards governing job quality and access for local residents, development-specific standards can increase stakeholder involvement, require additional benefits, and help to hold contractors accountable.
Community workforce agreements (CWAs)—sometimes referred to as community benefits agreements—are similar in nature to PLAs but are broader and often include community organizations as signatories.34 CWAs connect employers and unions with the local community through targeted hire provisions and pre-apprenticeship programs that create career pathways to high-wage jobs for workers in low-income and underresourced communities. They can also include provisions to support local minority- and women-owned contractors, improve retention of experienced workers, and ensure ongoing monitoring by labor and community groups.
Anchorage, Alaska, requires city officials undertaking municipal construction projects valued at more than $3.5 million to evaluate whether it is in the government’s interest to require a CWA.
For example, Anchorage, Alaska, requires city officials undertaking municipal construction projects valued at more than $3.5 million to evaluate whether it is in the government’s interest to require a CWA—and particularly whether such an agreement would support “timely and efficient completion of the municipal project, minimizing costs and delays, workplace safety, ensuring labor peace and stability, providing the municipality with the ability to negotiate and secure meaningful labor concessions, supporting and growing a qualified and competent workforce in the building and construction trades, and developing viable economic activities in the community.”35
Several communities have incentivized the use of CWAs on publicly supported rail car and bus manufacturing jobs by adopting requirements that bidders for contracts submit a U.S. employment plan.36 These federally approved policy tools help to increase the information that companies submit when bidding for public contracts to include the number and type of jobs created and retained domestically as well as wage and benefits information; they also train and support career pathways for historically marginalized workers, including women, people of color, veterans, and formerly incarcerated Americans.37
Employment plan usage and language have been incorporated in transit procurements in Los Angeles (see text box below), Chicago, Atlanta, and New York, as well as at the federal level, to attach standards and increase access to thousands of jobs on projects worth billions of dollars. California is also currently debating legislation to require the use of these plans on state-level procurement for transportation vehicles, including public transit buses, trains, and school buses.38
Case study: Ensuring transit investments support access to good jobs in greater Los Angeles
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) helped pioneer the use of U.S. employment plans in its transit contracts more than one decade ago.39 The agency uses these plans to support local manufacturing and production; encourage high wage and benefit standards; and increase access for women, workers of color, and other groups often excluded from these careers. Jobs to Move America (JMA)—a nonprofit advocacy group focused on harnessing public investments to “create good jobs and healthy communities across the country”— successfully built coalitions of labor, environmental, and community groups to demand that good, local jobs be created for the manufacture of the rail cars and electric buses.40
LA Metro first included U.S. employment plans in a request for proposals on an $890 million rail car bid in 2011. The investment was part of a major build-out of Los Angeles’ transit infrastructure. Kinkisharyo International, the winner of the light-rail contract, built a new factory in Los Angeles County and created more than 400 high-quality jobs.41 As part of its employment plan, Kinkisharyo agreed to expand opportunities for disadvantaged Los Angeles County workers, including military veterans, women, and people of color, through programs such as job readiness training, and it supported a streamlined process for unionization. Factory workers unionized in 2014, selecting the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as their representative, and today, workers at the factory have access to high-quality training and apprenticeship programs.
LA Metro continues to use employment plans to uphold high standards and expand access to quality jobs. For example, it entered into one of the largest electric bus contracts in U.S. history in 2017.42 The contract included an employment plan with commitments to create new jobs at a manufacturing facility in Lancaster, California, a community that has long struggled with high unemployment. Workers at the facility have unionized, and the agreement has resulted in the nation’s first electric bus apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.43
Finally, worker and community advocates have had success leveraging U.S. employment plan reporting to strengthen commitments to workers and community advocates. According to JMA representatives, after LA Metro scored manufacturer Proterra poorly on wage and benefit commitments included in a contract for the supply of batteries for electric buses and charging systems, the company signed a community benefits agreement with JMA’s coalition and United Steelworkers Local 675 in 2020.44 Proterra committed to ensuring 50 percent of new hires come from communities facing barriers to employment and creating pre-hire training and apprenticeship programs—with the first cohort graduating in 2021.45
Screen contractors for responsibility
State and local governments seeking to improve the quality of their contractor pools are increasingly instituting more rigorous screening of prospective vendors. By adopting these best practices, cities and states can improve their ability to weed out companies with histories of violating workplace laws and important regulatory protections.
Many states—including California [and] Connecticut … and cities, including … St. Petersburg, Florida, and dozens of jurisdictions across Illinois and Indiana—have responsible bidder screening programs for government contractors.
Responsible bidder policies are being enacted in jurisdictions across the political spectrum. Many states—including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York—and cities, including Birmingham, Alabama, St. Petersburg, Florida, and dozens of jurisdictions across Illinois and Indiana—have responsible bidder screening programs for government contractors.46 These programs are also used by semi-autonomous governing bodies, such as ports and airports, to ensure responsibility of contractors.47
Governments have adopted these laws to improve the quality of their contractor pools and to do a better job of identifying companies with long track records of committing fraud and other legal violations, wasting taxpayer funds, and lacking the proper experience and licensure.
Contractor responsibility screening should include a review of offerors’ compliance and financial records and proof of insurance and licensing. Compliance review should look specifically at bidders’ records of compliance with workplace laws, including federal, state, and local wage and safety laws. Moreover, best practices incorporate a front-end prescreening process before selection of a winning bid—a more reliable approach than a responsibility review conducted for only the lowest-cost or presumed winning bidder—and apply to both prime contractors and subcontractors to uphold quality across an entire project.
For example, Connecticut allows companies to prequalify before bidding on state and local public works projects.48 The process includes a review of a company’s integrity, work experience, personnel qualifications, financial condition, and safety record and standards. And Minnesota requires contractors to verify their own and subcontractor compliance with minimum responsibility criteria, including a company’s safety record and compliance with wage laws, on publicly owned or financed construction projects on contracts valued at more than $50,000.49
Increasingly, responsible bidder laws also require ongoing submission of certified payroll records and evidence that bidders are participating in active registered apprenticeship programs.50 (see text box below) This helps ensure that low-road contractors are not able to cut costs by misclassifying workers and ensure workforce stability by increasing the pipeline of new workers entering the industry.
Research finds that adoption of such programs—often termed “responsible bidder” programs—results in higher-quality and more reliable services; increased competition among responsible contractors; reduced project delays and cost overruns; and stronger incentives for compliance.51
Finally, it is important to note that IIJA funding should not be used to incentivize the contracting out of essential public goods and services or justify contracting with low-road contractors that undercut responsible bidders on the basis of paying poverty wages or cutting corners with public funds. The Center for American Progress has previously written on other state strategies to promote value in state and local contracting systems such as requiring careful review of the decisions to contract out and using comprehensive criteria to evaluate bidder for contracts.52
Case study: Winning bipartisan support for contractor responsibility in Indiana
When then-Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) signed legislation in 2015 repealing the Indiana Common Construction Wage law—which had required that workers on public construction projects be paid local, market wages and benefits—worker advocates, industry groups, and pro-worker policymakers warned that the action would erode local standards and workforce stability.53 Three years later, research confirmed these predictions, finding that construction worker wages fell by 8.5 percent since repeal, while turnover increased and employment growth slowed as compared with neighboring states.54
In order to combat these negative effects, the Indiana, Illinois, Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, a nonprofit partnership of local industry employers and labor unions, developed a model responsible bidder ordinance and began to work with policymakers in cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions across the state to enact the ordinance.55 From 2010 to 2019, the number of responsible bidder ordinances in Indiana and Illinois grew by 76 percent, and most were enacted with bipartisan support.56
As discussed above, advocates have found that effective responsible bidder policies prescreen bidders for legal compliance, evaluate both prime contractors and subcontractors, and require active participation in federally or state-approved registered apprenticeship programs as well as submission of certified payroll records.
For example, Lake County, Indiana, adopted a responsible bidder ordinance in 2015, after the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law, and took action this year to strengthen the law’s apprenticeship standards.57 In an interview with the author, Lake County Commissioner Michael Repay explained, “It’s inherent that good public policy contemplate value for taxpayers, but you can’t get to the heart of value if bidders aren’t required to conform to good business practices—practices that are spelled out in our responsible bidder ordinance, including the training and welfare of workers.”58
Research shows that these local ordinances are effective at limiting the negative consequences of repealing a state-level prevailing wage law. For example, as compared with counties that have not adopted these standards, counties with responsible bidder ordinances experience lower turnover and high earnings for industry workers, and they do not significantly raise costs of public investment.59
Enforce wage and equity standards with monitoring and partnerships
Cities and states can uphold high standards on IIJA funds by supporting adequate resources and staff to carry out the necessary enforcement efforts. Policymakers should provide enforcement agencies with robust funding, monitor work-site compliance across the lifetime of a project, and create new roles for worker organizations to help educate workers on their rights, including wage and benefits standards, equal employment, and workplaces free from discrimination and harassment; confirm compliance; and help report violations.60
Research shows that when a contractor violates workplace laws and pays poverty wages, it also frequently provides poor value to the public … and forces social safety net programs to subsidize illegal or poverty wages.
Without adequate oversight and enforcement, even the strongest workplace protections are meaningless. This is particularly true in the construction industry, where wage theft and workplace violations are all too common.61 Research shows that when a contractor violates workplace laws and pays poverty wages, it also frequently provides poor value to the public—with increased cost overruns, poor quality construction, and even overcharging the government—and forces social safety net programs to subsidize illegal or poverty wages.62
In order to ensure compliance with local standards, San Francisco requires winning bidders to submit hiring plans for local and disadvantaged workers in advance of the start of a project and uses certified payroll and a contract software tracking system with automated reporting to troubleshoot problems at specific job sites as well as monitor progress toward citywide goals.63 The city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development releases an annual report tracking programmatic success by awarding agency, trade, and project city and contractor, as well as overall racial, gender, and geographic diversity on city projects.64
In addition, evidence suggests that ongoing enforcement partnerships have been effective in improving compliance and enforcement, and particularly support immigrant workers and workers earning low incomes in asserting their rights.65 As discussed above, CWAs can help to facilitate project-specific monitoring by worker and community organizations.
Local jurisdictions are increasingly adopting strategies to ensure that this sort of oversight occurs across all publicly supported projects. The longest-running enforcement partnership in the country is in Los Angeles County, where the unified school district partners with trade unions to help enforce the prevailing wage laws on district projects 66 Volunteers trained through the Los Angeles Joint Labor Compliance Monitoring Program are authorized to inspect work sites and talk to workers about compliance. Multnomah County, Oregon, uses a similar program on public works construction sites.67
Seattle and San Francisco also have partnered with community organizations to enforce labor standards laws, helping to ensure workers know their rights and feel comfortable coming forward.68 And Los Angeles World Airports recently entered into an agreement with SEIU United Service Workers West, which represents passenger service, baggage handling, and other airport service workers. This agreement helps to strengthen enforcement of the airports’ living wage and worker retention policies by targeting city enforcement resources for labor violations at the airport; dedicating community outreach workers with access to the work site to help educate workers on their rights; and strengthening rules to remove irresponsible contractors from the airport.69
Lawmakers should strengthen workplace laws by investing in ongoing monitoring systems and partnering with unions and other community organizations to monitor compliance. Procurement processes for IIJA-funded projects could incorporate transparency around workforce data, including: the number of jobs to be created; whether workers will be directly employed; and whether there are policies to promote a diverse and local workforce. State and local awarding agencies should incorporate these metrics as part of the request-for-proposal processes, proposal evaluations, and ongoing compliance oversight.
While many of the examples above specifically focus on wage enforcement, involving trusted community organizations and pairing these efforts with know-your-rights training that also includes high-quality anti-harassment and discrimination training can help expand the reach of the programs and promote retention of diverse workers.
Case study: Diversifying construction career pathways in Portland, Oregon
In 2019, Oregon Metro—a regional planning agency encompassing Portland, Oregon, and 23 other cities in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties—undertook a collaborative initiative to diversify the regional construction trades workforce and ensure that women and people of color were able to access and thrive in high-quality industry jobs.70
Oregon Metro’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program led the effort to both diversify the workforce on its own capital projects and collaborate across jurisdictions to advance a regional strategy.
Early-stage outreach by Oregon Metro staff found shared frustration across government bodies that existing efforts to expand access were met with mixed results. In addition, Oregon Metro identified shared concern across government, labor, and industry that looming increases in industry retirement rates would threaten workforce stability and capacity. In order to help build a shared understanding of these challenges, Oregon Metro conducted a market study evaluating the opportunities and challenges facing women and people of color in the construction trades at the outset of the project and convened a Public Owner Workgroup of 16 public agencies.
The group also included ongoing input from community, labor, and industry groups and drew on best practices developed across the country to recommend a comprehensive policy framework for adoption. These include several of the interventions discussed in this report, including: setting clear apprenticeship and diversity goals; tracking and reviewing progress on the goals with stakeholders in real time; adopting CWAs on large construction projects; implementing high-quality anti-harassment training and strategies to change work-site culture; and investing in recruitment, training, and retention of women and people of color.71
In an interview with the author, Oregon Metro Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program Director Raahi Reddy and Regional Impact Program Manager Sebrina Owens-Wilson stressed that the power of this framework is its emphasis on advancing multiple strategies simultaneously. While cities and counties in Oregon Metro’s jurisdiction have discretion on how, and whether, to implement any of these recommendations, according to Owens-Wilson, the framework is “not an a la carte menu.”72
For example, investments in training and recruitment of women and people of color that ignore ongoing work-site harassment will ultimately fail to retain highly qualified tradespeople. Similarly, CWAs help build constituencies across labor, industry, and community groups that are invested in programmatic success and empowered to solve problems that arise when agencies are also tracking apprentice- and journey-level participation and diversity in real time.
Already, eight public agencies across the political spectrum have adopted the policy framework, including in the three counties.73 The framework will apply on a series of Multnomah County projects to expand and build a library and a series of Oregon Metro parks and nature capital projects focused on protecting clean water, restoring habitat, and connecting people to nature.
Additionally, Oregon Metro, Multnomah County, and the city of Portland have finalized one of the first multijurisdictional workforce agreements in the country, which will cover a wide range of infrastructure projects over the next five years.74 The Regional Workforce Equity Agreement includes the full implementation of construction career pathways and pairs support with strong protections for workers of color and female workers and strong support for construction contracting firms owned by women and people of color.
Program administrators stress that even leaders in communities that have less flexibility to adopt such a comprehensive strategy should ensure that interventions to support job quality and equity include simultaneous efforts to build the pipeline of women and people of color entering the construction industry; ensure that government purchasing incentivizes the hiring and retention of diverse workers; and monitor effectiveness in real time.
The IIJA represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild U.S. infrastructure for the 21st century and improve the lives of working people across the country. Cities and states have considerable power to shape these investments to deliver on that promise by investing in high-quality training accessible to historically marginalized workers; adopting standards to require companies receiving government support to create good jobs and expand access; and instituting oversight mechanisms to ensure the government delivers on these obligations.
For more resources on creating good jobs with government funding, see: