Center for American Progress

RELEASE: How State and Local Policymakers Can Raise Standards for Workers and the Public
Press Release

RELEASE: How State and Local Policymakers Can Raise Standards for Workers and the Public

Washington, D.C. — State and local governments support millions of jobs across the United States and contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the economy. Yet these jobs often pay very low wages, involve poor working conditions, or do little to ensure that local residents benefit. A new Center for American Progress report provides recommendations for state and local policymakers to raise standards on government-supported work and help states’ bottom lines.

The six key recommendations for action that policymakers can take to raise standards on government-supported work include:

  1. Carefully evaluating decisions to contract out public work. Excessive use of contracting by states and localities weakens the ability of government officials to oversee taxpayer-funded work. Instead, government agencies should adopt consistent procedures for determining whether it is in the public’s best interest to contract out and to get an accurate analysis of the benefits and costs.
  2. Evaluate contractors for responsibility. State and local governments seeking to improve the quality of their contractor pools are increasingly instituting more rigorous evaluation of prospective vendors. Adding responsible bidder programs will help state and local governments acquire higher-quality and more reliable services, increased competition among responsible contractors, reduced project delays and cost overruns, and stronger incentives for compliance.
  3. Adopt wage and benefit standards. Research shows that wage and benefit standards provide significant benefits to workers, boosting wages, increasing health care coverage, and narrowing racial and gender pay gaps. In addition, contractor wage standards also help support good value on public investments by boosting worker productivity, reducing turnover and injury rates, and increasing service quality and worker training, thereby ensuring a stable, well-qualified workforce.
  4. Expand equitable access to high-quality jobs. Targeted hire and apprenticeship utilization standards help connect local workers from all walks of life to high-quality jobs and training opportunities on publicly supported projects, as well as benefit local contractors and labor markets by supporting a well-qualified workforce. Apprenticeship utilization and targeted hire standards set standards requiring that a portion of workers on a covered project participate in a registered apprenticeship program or are members of an identified group.
  5. Require project labor agreements and community workforce agreements. Project labor agreements (PLAs) and community workforce agreements (CWAs) are powerful tools that help ensure a consistent supply of high-quality labor and avoid costly work stoppages due to labor disputes, ensuring that projects are delivered on time and on budget and are of high quality. Policymakers should require PLAs or CWAs to improve job quality by creating enforceable standards that go beyond statutory minimums; the agreements can also be used to ensure that the investments benefit local workers from all walks of life.
  6. Adopt incentives to raise workplace standards above the legal floor. Baseline requirements—such as wage standards and targeted hiring—can set the floor, while incentives for higher labor practices can help encourage companies to raise standards further. Adopting these standards will support sustainable local economic development and help guarantee successful public investments by supporting retention of the skilled workforce necessary to support high-quality public works and services.

“The Biden administration’s signature industrial policies—the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act—promise to create millions of good jobs across American communities with investments to support physical, digital, water, and clean energy infrastructure,” said Karla Walter, senior fellow for Inclusive Growth and author of the report. “Local and state policymakers believe that these pro-worker policies will improve the lives of local residents and will help state and local policymakers have a better chance at winning federal funding from President Joe Biden’s industrial policy investments.”

Read the report: Government on Workers’ Side: How State and Local Policymakers and Advocates Can Raise Standards for Publicly Supported Work” by Karla Walter

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Sarah Nadeau at snadeau@americanprogress.org.

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