In 1997, residents of Los Angeles area neighborhoods in the path of what will be the largest public/private rail transportation project in the country learned of the impact the project would have on their neighborhoods – in the form of noise, traffic, and other inconveniences. A handful of community-based organizations (CBOs), along with the Center for Community Change and a number of legal advocates, came together that summer to discuss how to best ensure that their needs would be taken into consideration in the planning and construction phases of this project. By September, the Alameda Corridor Jobs Coalition (ACJC) was 40 members strong and had enlisted the aid of the Employment Law Center in San Francisco.
After months of organizing, meeting, and building support, ACJC’s efforts to capture some of the benefits of the $2 billion rail construction project to connect the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach paid off. Thanks to their efforts, over one thousand residents of low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods will receive job training and find new jobs over the next five years.
As devastating as the planned construction will be to their communities, the group quickly seized upon the opportunity to organize around what they felt they could gain from the project – jobs. The group targeted the Alameda Corridor Project as a potential source of good jobs for low-income persons residing in communities and neighborhoods along the 20-mile route of the Corridor Project that cuts through some of the most economically depressed low-income communities of the Los Angeles basin.
In the campaign’s early stages, ACJC functioned primarily as a research group, compiling information on the project and possible actions they could take toward their goals. This extensive research effort, while time consuming, helped enormously to bring credibility to the work of the coalition and drew support from key politicians and organizations. The group closely scrutinized and considered supporting materials for its campaign, such as lawsuits filed by other groups not involved in major decision-making processes, California’s apprenticeship laws, Department of Transportation regulations, the status of other megaprojects around the country, and more. Members of the collaborative conducted interviews with individuals from various agencies involved with the project, and spent time with other organizations that had undertaken similar campaigns in other parts of the country, in order to learn from their successes and mistakes. ACJC representatives traveled to Washington, DC, to join other CBOs working on transportation issues in a series of meetings with the Department of Transportation, the Clinton Administration, and Congress.
In the process of this research effort, the working group came across regulatory language in federal law that they realized could pose a major problem for their efforts: the language appeared to prohibit preferential hiring agreements in federally-funded transportation projects. Further research and consultation with Department of Transportation officials made it clear that the federal law was not likely to change, so ACJC pressed local agencies to find ways around the regulation.
ACJC members began attending Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority (ACTA) meetings in large numbers to press their issues, including access to jobs language that would assure employment for unemployed residents. The constant pressure on the ACTA board finally paid off, when a board member suggested that ACJC draft proposed hiring and training guidelines and submit them to ACTA for consideration. The coalition of community and political leaders ACJC had built by this time was substantial enough to be a significant force at the table when it came time for negotiations about the group’s demands.
In March, ACJC won concessions from ACTA in the form of an unprecedented job development and training program, including a detailed local hiring plan. An estimated 10,500 new construction jobs will be created during the five years of construction, about 3,500 of which will go to residents of the low-income neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of the project. ACJC also negotiated for funds to be allocated to expand existing construction training programs and persuaded ACTA to include funds for community-based organizations along the Corridor route to recruit and prepare local residents for entry into pre-apprenticeship and apprentice training programs and new hire work positions on the Corridor Project. The long-range goal is to establish a precedent and process for successful local recruitment and hiring that can be replicated with future public works projects.
Now ACJC finds itself in a new role, with its efforts and success being monitored and studied by other organizations around the country that are facing similar challenges. The organization’s work is far from over, though, as members continue to strategize about a future effort to change the federal regulations. And ACJC has already begun to deepen its relationships with labor unions, particularly the Building Trades unions, as it looks to ensure that the agreement it won is fully implemented.
Portions of this article are excerpted from “The Alameda Corridor Jobs Coalition Hits a Gold Mine!” Center for Community Change Organizing newsletter, April 1998.