If you dig through recent rezoning proposals, you are likely to find a reference to one of the city’s workforce development initiatives, HireNYC.
In order to alleviate tension with community members of rezoned neighborhoods, the city touts HireNYC as a way to benefit from jobs that will come out of rezoning projects, following an expansion of the program in 2015 by Mayor de Blasio. Any project that uses more than $1 million in subsidies from the New York City Economic Development Corporation or more than $2 million from the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) is required to enroll in HireNYC.
Despite the mayor praising HireNYC as the “largest” and “most impactful” targeted hiring program in the country, data obtained by City Limits from labor union Construction and General Building Laborers’ Local 79 reveals a questionable track record of the initiative.
The data contains 4,101 hiring decisions made since 2010 through HireNYC’s three sectors: goods & services, development and permanent jobs. The decisions are labeled as “hired,” “not hired” and “pending.” Out of the total, only 767 were hired, about 18 percent, and 31 referrals were not hired. The remaining 3,303 referrals are “pending,” which makes up roughly 80 percent of all referrals in the data.
Referrals are labeled as pending if NYC Small Business Services (SBS) has not received confirmation from an employer that a candidate was hired, as SBS explains.
According to Michael Prohaska, Business Manager of Local 79, “we can really assume that the applicants were not hired.” He claims the employers do not report those who were not hired to HireNYC in order to avoid explaining their hiring decision. “So what they do is just leave it as pending,” said Prohaska. “They are receiving public money,” he said, “millions and millions of dollars, and all they have to do is say that they interviewed a few folks and that is it.”
Legal obstacles cited
When asked why businesses are not required to hire referrals from HireNYC, SBS said it is not legally possible enforce it, but businesses are “contractually required to consider qualified candidates we refer to open positions.” Employers are also expected to comply with job requirements detailed in a rider, such as this one.
The rider states employers must update the HireNYC portal with all entry and mid-level positions that result from projects with the city. After completing interviews with candidates, the employer has 20 days to update the portal to notify which candidates were interviewed and hired. But many referrals date back to 2016 and 2017 and are classified as “pending” as of April 2018, when the query for the data request was completed.
In spite of these guidelines, it seems the city has failed to follow up with the businesses enrolled with the program. In February, the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report detailed HireNYC “is looking into citywide technological fixes that improve compliance and alleviate administrative burden and strengthen the HireNYC policy through program evaluation and advocacy.”
The lack of compliance also alarmed Councilmember Francisco Moya, who has questioned the effectiveness of HireNYC since the Jerome Avenue rezoning hearings. “How is this possible that you could have people dating back from the first year that this program was introduced?” asked Moya. “They are still pending.”
The earliest record of pending applications dates back to 2011, two years after the program’s launch. Only ten referrals were made that year with the same company, but only one person was hired. As of April 2018, the remaining nine referrals were pending, seven years after the initial referral.
According to SBS, 663 people have been hired full-time through HireNYC since 2016. But for Moya, those numbers do not justify the program to be considered a national model for success, especially considering the number of rezonings that have occurred since then. “The frustration for me is we are not actually helping the various people in that community,” says Moya, “and anytime you use public money is to invest in people and not companies.”
In order to avoid displacement as a result of new development, Moya and Michael Prohaska from Local 79 suggest HireNYC should ensure careers as a pathway to the middle class. One way to do so is to invest in apprenticeship programs to get proper training and skills needed for construction jobs.
Lack of basic skills an obstacle
A possible reason why folks have yet to have luck with HireNYC is a lack of skills for the jobs they are referred to. Erin Construction & Development relied on the program to seek candidates for numerous projects with the city. But according to Alana Smith, chief operating officer of the company, recruiting efforts through HireNYC were not successful because oftentimes candidates lacked the skill set and OSHA training.
“We had what looked like well-qualified individuals on paper that could talk the talk but could not walk the walk,” says Smith.
Although results have not been promising, HireNYC has seen some success with its Build It Back initiative, as City Limits previously reported. Mayor de Blasio set a goal of 20 percent of people working in the initiative to be residents of communities affected by Hurricane Sandy, a goal which was met.
When Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director at the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), partnered with Build It Back, she noticed applicants were lacking in skills but later benefited from construction pre-apprentice and apprenticeship programs. Silva-Farrell recognizes local hiring initiatives like HireNYC could improve by including apprenticeship programs, but the city should conduct separate analysis for each rezoned neighborhood instead of incorporating a “blanket policy” without talking to community members.
“I think it goes back to the same question of how do we ensure that there is some local hiring language that will be sensible to the needs of the people who provide those jobs and also to the needs of the members,” says Silva-Farrel. “There has to be some analysis, some understanding that not every neighborhood in the city is the same and not everybody has the same kind of educational access.”
Call for more transparency
Frustrated with the lackluster results of HireNYC, Moya plans to introduce a bill containing mandates on hiring standards, public reporting, enforcement and responsible contractor language.
Employers would be required to hire one referral from HireNYC for every $500,000 in city contracts and inform candidates their hiring status no later than 60 days. Referrals must also be hired as full-time employees with prevailing wage, and participate in training requirements like apprenticeship programs.
The bill also bans contractors who have had a history of wage theft, insurance fraud and worker safety issues from doing business with the city. Data shows Bletsas Plumbing & Heating Corporation was hired by HPD in 2017 to work in an affordable housing project with St. Barnabas Wellness Care, despite being involved in an insurance fraud lawsuit two years prior.
In theory, Moya believes HireNYC is a good program, but it is just another problematic piece to the way the city conducts rezonings. “Transparency is the only way we will have a truly affective program that will benefit the very people that we’re trying to help in these neighborhood rezonings,” he says.
Published in City Limits on July 9, 2019