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Duggan aims to build Detroit building force, cut fines

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan announced Friday a new program that could boost job opportunities for Detroiters and cut fines for contractors working on major projects in the city.

Through the new Detroit Skilled Trades Employment Program, there will be a larger percentage of first-year apprenticeship slots devoted to Detroit residents. Duggan and representatives from Plumbers Local 98, the Mechanical Contractors Association of Detroit and the Joint Apprenticeship Committee announced that at least 25 percent of all new apprentices to Local 98 will be Detroit residents.

This serves as a solution to hefty fines brought against contractors who failed to meet requirements laid out in an executive order from Duggan, which stated at least 51 percent of the workforce on construction projects funded by more than $3 million of public money must be “bona-fide Detroit residents.”

In October, contractors building the new Red Wings arena were fined a total of $675,000 for failing to hire enough Detroiters at the construction site. But contractors cried foul, according to Duggan. The companies said there weren’t enough Detroiters qualified to take on the jobs.

“As the construction has exploded in Detroit, there haven’t been enough Detroiters to fill the jobs,” he said. “There were always issues, but the explosion of construction has made the problem much more severe in the last year.”

Portia Roberson, the city’s director of the Office of Human Rights, told Duggan the city would only be collecting fines as construction continued to ramp up because there weren’t enough workers. Duggan said he sat down with union representatives and contractors to find a solution.

The new program modifies Duggan’s order. The city will continue to enforce hiring requirements through fines where the 51 percent requirement is not met by contractors. However, contractors who hire unions participating in the skilled trades employment program will be “considered in compliance with the Executive Order,” as long as those unions have Detroiters filling 25 percent of their new apprenticeship spots.

Currently, Plumbers Local 98 is the only union making the commitment.

“Men and women of color have been underrepresented in the building trades forever,” Duggan said. “The plumbers were the leaders.”

Dan Nixon, Local 98 business manager, said the new program could boost the number of Detroiters in its union from 58 members to 174 in 10 years.

Duggan said the door is open for other skilled trade unions to commit to the program. Fines levied from contractors failing to meet hiring requirements will be used to fund training programs within the city, he said.

George Scott, a Detroit resident, started his plumbing apprenticeship about four months ago. He’s been working on the Little Caesars Arena project downtown.

He thinks the new program will at the least give skilled trades some much-needed publicity in the city.

“I just think many people don’t know about these jobs,” he said. “They don’t know the good wages people are making.”

Scott added that he’s worked many odd jobs, but since starting his apprenticeship, he feels he has job security.

“You can’t outsource this,” he said. “And robots can’t do it.”

On Friday, Duggan added to his executive order that all city capital projects will be subject to the same hiring requirements. The city plans to spend $100 million on infrastructure in 2017.

ithibodeau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau