County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, joined by U.S. veterans, urged his colleagues Tuesday to approve a program that would require contractors to set aside a percentage of jobs on construction projects for veterans.
The Local Worker Hire Program for Veterans, as proposed by Ridley- Thomas, would be mandatory on projects in Los Angeles County, and contractors would be subject to fines if they do not comply.
"California's performance in finding jobs for veterans is among the worst in the nation," Ridley-Thomas said, citing U.S. Labor Department figures.
"While unemployment rates for veterans are basically equal to the general population, higher skill levels in education attainment among veterans should mean higher employment opportunities and higher rates of employment," he said. "So the item before us is about recognizing the value of these veterans."
Former members of several branches of the military spoke in support of the program.
"I just want to ensure that I can find a job so that I can support my family," said Alejandro Bernal, an Army veteran who has been studying electrical construction. "I just want an equal opportunity to be able to prove that soldiers are hard workers."
"One of our main concerns is actually finding meaningful employment," said Kristine Hesse, who served for 24 years in the Air Force.
Supervisor Don Knabe, however, indicated that he could not support a mandatory program.
"It boils back down to mandatory and how that language is interpreted," he said, adding that he has not been an advocate of "project labor agreements" whereby labor unions negotiate the terms and conditions of a construction project with the contractor.
"I'm not sure that this isn't the nose under the tent to do that and (isn't) trying to use the vets to make that happen," Knabe said.
Ridley-Thomas countered that he didn't know how the board could "address the chronic unemployment issues and the acute levels of homelessness among veterans unless we move in the direction of that which is mandatory. That which is voluntary has proven itself to be ineffective."
"It's not about a project labor agreement," he said. "It is essentially about how we cause those (veterans) who reside in our respective districts to have access to employment."
The board deferred any action for two weeks while county Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka compiles a report on what percentage of people who have been hired under the county's disadvantaged worker programs are veterans.
"I'd like to know how many veterans are in the pool ... because if you're getting, for the sake of argument, 20 percent of the people being hired ... are veterans, I think that puts this in a different kind of perspective," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "If less than 5 percent are veterans, it's a different kind of perspective."
Linda Broughton, an employment relationship manager with the Salvation Army Haven, told the supervisors that "although there are many deference hiring initiatives today," many local hiring managers "are reluctant to hire veterans."
—City News Service