First Source Hiring Agreements Are Coming Back

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans  The Baltimore City Council joined other cities in passing an ordinance requiring that on city contracts of $300,000 or more 50% or more of the workers needed to be hired from the ranks of city residents.  Baltimore wanted to tackle statistical unemployment of almost 10% and unemployment in many of its lower income neighborhoods that is double and triple that number.  Hear!  Hear!

Baltimore is following the same path as Boston in 1985 and San Francisco in 2011.  Why haven’t cities everywhere taken these same steps?   Part of the problem likes in the specious argument trumpeted by of all people the Baltimore City Attorney that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause holding that states cannot discriminate against the citizens of other states and only favor their own citizens.

First, some background here.  “First source” agreements have been common pieces of sound public policy for decades all of the country and in the first line of demands of community organizations back to the late 1960’s at least.  “First source” was exactly what you would think, meaning an employer receiving public monies would first seek workers from the community before going on to others.  This is not to say that no other workers from elsewhere could ever be hired, but it is to say that a preference would be given to people from the community and that everything being equal, they would be hired first.  Such agreements were unquestionably legal.

The Golden State Cab case in Los Angeles held that a City Council could not dictate the contracting or a specific company in a bid, but nothing has ever said that cities or states do not have the power to use their money in their own public policy interests.  If hiring preferences were illegal, how could any city justify residency requirements for public workers, police, and fire?  How could public universities throughout the country defend one level of tuition for state residents and another for out-of-state residents under the Privileges and Immunities Clause?  Simple:  there is no discrimination involved.  Residents from elsewhere can move into a city or state and after establishing the residency requirements be afforded the same benefits.

It goes without saying that as an organizer I’ve been practicing law without a license for more than 45 years now, but there is no way that the Baltimore City Council and city councils throughout the country could not successfully craft ordinances that fit the requirements of the constitution while also giving their own residents preference for public or publicly funded jobs.  The same demands for “first source” and residentially preferential hiring should be heard in city halls everywhere!

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