Workers Challenge D.C. Hire Law

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The District of Columbia’s hiring law unconstitutionally requires employers to hire city residents for city-funded building jobs first, no matter what their qualifications, contractors and workers say in Federal Court.
     “The right to pursue one’s calling free from discrimination is a fundamental American right,” three contractors and four skilled laborers who live just outside the District say in the complaint against the District of Columbia and Mayor Vincent Gray.
     “Under the Constitution, a jurisdiction cannot erect barriers that prevent qualified workers who live in another jurisdiction from practicing their trades.”
     But that is precisely the aim of the 1984 First Source Employment Act that requires contractors on government-assisted jobs to hire from a first0source registry of unemployed city residents, the plaintiffs say.
     The law also requires contractors to have city residents make up 51 percent of their new hires for projects costing more than $100,000, and allows the mayor to set goals for increasing employment opportunities for city residents.
     “The District of Columbia’s ’employment problem’ is not that there are too many residents chasing too few jobs,” the complaint states. “By some measures, there are over 800,000 jobs in this city of 600,000 people. The ‘problem’ is that the District lags behind its neighbors in educating and training the workforce the construction industry needs.
     “The First Source Employment Act has never created a single job – and never will.”
     The contractors and laborers say that recent amendments to the law make it impossible for builders to comply with its hiring and quota requirements, and threaten employees and employers with job losses, business failures and debarment from government contracting.
     They say the law breeds an unsafe work environment, higher employee training costs and low morale.
     The amended law, which became effective in February, “exacerbates unconstitutional discrimination, imposes onerous restrictions on the bidding process, threatens stiffer penalties, and burdens larger projects with new requirements,” according to the complaint.
     Among the new requirements is an expansion of the First Source Register program that requires contractors to fill all jobs created by government-assisted projects with employees from the register. Contractors also must use the register to fill any vacancies that occur during the job, the plaintiffs say.
     They say the amended law more broadly defines government contracts and beneficiaries, which the city uses to define those receiving contracts. The law also threatens “harsher penalties for noncompliance, including potential debarment.”
     The complaint states: “As a direct result of the requirements of the Amended Act and the Amended Employee Agreements, the individual plaintiffs are likely to be discriminated against in obtaining or retaining employment simply because they are not residents of the District, while the contractor plaintiffs face imminent discrimination and risk because they cannot satisfy the obligations of the Act. The terms of the Amended Act are currently affecting the contractor plaintiffs’ ability to bid on jobs or secure employment.”
     The contractor plaintiffs are the Metropolitan Washington Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, Miller & Long Concrete Construction and Hawkins Electrical Construction of DC. The workers are Warren Weems, Tron Hill, Emmett Morris and Floyd Armwood, all of whom live within 10 miles of the city limits.
     They want the law enjoined as unconstitutional and unenforceable.
     They are represented by Paul Kiernan with Holland Knight.

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