St. Pete City Council approved an ordinance aimed at putting ex-felons back to work. The disadvantaged worker ordinance will require contractors on city projects totally $2 million or more to employ people with criminal records for 10 percent of its man hours.
Under the ordinance a “disadvantaged work” is defined as not just someone with a criminal record, but who has also received public assistance like food stamps, Medicare or Medicaid or unemployment within the year prior to being hired.
The ordinance is five years in the making and has been pushed heavily by the faith-based coalition FAST — Faith in Action for Strength Together. Previous attempts by the council to implement such an ordinance were met by staunch opposition from the local builders’ association.
As a result of the pushback, council previously implemented an incentive-based program that rewarded contractors for employing ex-felons on city projects. But they said that didn’t work.
“It was the contractors and builders who came up with the incentive program and we passed an incentive program exactly as they suggested and they didn’t use it,” said Council member Karl Nurse.
But contractors argued they hadn’t had a chance to really incorporate the incentives because city projects of late have been smaller. They pointed to three upcoming major projects — the Pier, Police Headquarters and a new water treatment plant — that would really give them an opportunity to meet the incentive standards.
“The construction industry as a whole takes one of the biggest chances on disadvantaged workers,” said Edward Briggs with the local Associated Builders and Contractors.
He pointed out that unskilled workers make up only 8 percent of their total workforce.
“We need skilled workers,” Briggs said.
The group FAST has repeatedly said there are plenty of skilled workers in that pool to meet and exceed the city’s ordinance, but Briggs said the group has yet to capitalize on showing them.
While the measure passed unanimously and with much praise toward the religious coalition, Council chair Charlie Gerdes did offer one warning to the group.
“FAST, you should take all the credit for pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing, but you know what, you’ve also got to participate,” Gerdes said. “When they’re asking where are these folks — FAST, you have to be able to say here they are, here’s how you get in touch with them.”
A previous version of the ordinance would have only included city projects over $10 million, but Mayor Rick Kriseman and Gerdes pushed for including more city projects by lowering the threshold.
The ordinance could help folks like Steven Manning.
“I am one of the ones that is having trouble finding a job because of my past offenses. I am one of the ones who has to deal with this on a daily basis because I can’t get a job because of my past,” Manning said. “Give people a second chance. Lead the way in helping to create jobs for these members and also me in this community.”
City Council also voted to include a provision in the ordinance that would require city staff to report back in a year about results. That information would include things like how many people were employed based on the ordinance, how many man hours and how much cost. It would also include a report about whether or not there were any adverse effects by showing how many contractors bid on jobs.
Gerdes worried that’s not measurable.
“I don’t know how you qualitatively determine why someone didn’t bid,” he said.