CENTRAL VALLEY — The Modesto Bee's March 6 editorial, "Valley high-speed rail hiring policy adds to concern," takes an unfair swipe at the California High-Speed Rail Authority's goal of creating and maximizing job opportunities for Central Valley residents and ignores long-standing state and national policies encouraging employers to help economically disadvantaged people including veterans re-enter the job market.
Since unemployment in the Central Valley is the highest in California and well above the national average, it is vital that there is an emphasis on creating jobs in the valley. The board has adopted an aggressive goal of 30 percent small-business participation, which will provide unprecedented opportunities for small, minority- and disabled veteran-owned firms.
The development of a Community Benefits Agreement is one step in that process, and is virtually identical to agreements used successfully throughout California on major infrastructure programs. Under the agreement, construction contractors will be required to adhere to the National Targeted Hiring Initiative, which says 30 percent of the work will go to targeted workers and 10 percent will be done by disadvantaged workers.
Who are we talking about? People living in economically disadvantaged areas and facing barriers to employment such as being homeless; being a custodial single parent; those receiving public assistance; those lacking a GED or high school diploma; having a criminal record; being chronically unemployed; being emancipated from foster care or being a veteran.
These definitions come from almost 20-year-old state and federal programs that provide Work Opportunity Tax Credit incentives for employers to help such people get off of public assistance and back into the job market.
The five joint venture teams bidding on construction of the first leg have agreements with labor unions.
It's important to bring to the attention of the public that in California about 95 percent of the construction apprentices in state-approved programs are in apprenticeship programs jointly sponsored by labor unions and signatory contractors. Anyone hired to work on the program, including disadvantaged workers, will have all the training and qualifications to perform their jobs. The CBA also creates an opening for nonunion businesses to fully participate in building the high-speed rail system, and expressly prohibits discrimination based on union membership.
The Bee also failed to mention that the Agreement contains a "No Strike Clause." This protects taxpayers by ensuring that the project will not be subject to costly work stoppages that could jeopardize the entire program.
As part of an historic investment in improved rail service throughout California, high-speed rail will put thousands of people to work. Working people help strengthen the economy and communities. Many will learn new skills that will serve them for a lifetime. It means moms, dads, neighbors, union and nonunion workers, small-business owners and their employees will be able to support themselves and their families and build a high-speed rail project that will link our state.
It's an investment in our future that we can all be proud of.
Morales is the chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.