Nearly three years ago developers, unions, community leaders, and government officials in Oakland, California, came together to make sure the city’s biggest construction project in decades would create jobs and apprenticeships for residents who need them most. By every measure, the agreement for redeveloping the old Oakland Army Base is a resounding success.
It is meeting ambitious targets for local hiring and far exceeding targets for connecting people facing employment barriers to career-path training. It has inspired a similar agreement on a $178 million construction project for Bus Rapid Transit from downtown Oakland to San Leandro. Perhaps most importantly, the Army base deal demonstrates what it takes to translate large-scale urban investments into equitable economic growth — and why it matters.
“This has changed my life,” said Sadakao Whittington, who landed an $18.29-an-hour apprenticeship with Laborers Local 304 a few months after he was paroled from state prison at age 40. After working on demolition at the base, he moved on to similar jobs around the Bay Area while earning certification in welding, heavy machine maintenance, and more than a dozen other skills. Now a member of Sprinkler Fitters Local 483, he earns $24.42 an hour plus full benefits. His wage will rise to $60 within five years.
“I have a nice apartment that’s fully furnished,” Whittington said. “I have a good credit score and a bank account. I pay taxes and spend my paycheck inside my community. I have a sense of achievement. I feel valued. All these things happened because all these people came together in a collaborative and cohesive way to provide opportunity to someone trying to get somewhere.”
The labor and community benefits agreement covers the first phase of an $800 million public-private venture to transform the shuttered Army base into an international trade and logistics center at the Port of Oakland. The deal pertains to the city-owned portion of the project; a similar agreement is in the works for the port’s piece. The project broke ground in late 2013. It is expected to create more than 1,500 construction jobs over seven years and 1,500 permanent jobs in operations. About 500 new hires currently work there.
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