Port of Opportunity: Landmark Jobs Deal in Oakland, California
A massive project to redevelop the shuttered army base in Oakland, California, will create hundreds of good jobs and training opportunities for local residents, under a landmark agreement crafted jointly by the city, the community, unions, and the developers. It shows what's possible when a city comes together to make sure large-scale development strengthens the local economy and creates 21st century opportunities for the people who need them most.
A 30-organization coalition called Revive Oakland led the community campaign to build the project on a foundation of equity and inclusion.
"The idea that you either meet the needs of the community or you meet the needs of the investors is a false dichotomy," said Fred Blackwell, assistant city administrator for the City of Oakland. "That's important and it's liberating. You don't have to make a choice between one and the other. You can do both."
The $800 million public-private venture is Oakland's biggest development project in decades. It will transform public land the size of 200 football fields into an international trade and logistics center serving the Port of Oakland and supporting the development of a stronger, more globally connected regional economy. The first $500 million phase of the project is expected to create more than 1,500 construction-related jobs over the next seven years, and 1,500 permanent jobs in operations. The agreement, which covers this first phase of the project, guarantees that half the jobs will go to Oakland residents.
The project broke ground this November.
The agreement sets the most far-reaching job standards yet for Oakland and for the warehouse industry nationwide. The local hire provisions cover both construction jobs and permanent operations jobs, a first for the city. And for the first time anywhere, the use of temporary employment agencies to fill warehouse jobs will be strongly limited. This puts the brakes on a growing practice that has reduced wages and job security industry-wide.
The agreement sets several other important standards:
- Employers may not pre-screen job applicants for prior criminal records. This gives formerly incarcerated residents a fairer shot at employment.
- Every worker will earn a living wage — currently a minimum of $11.70 an hour plus benefits in Oakland.
- Twenty-five percent of apprenticeship hours are designated for veterans, ex-offenders, the long-term unemployed, and others facing barriers to employment, and all new apprenticeships will go to Oakland residents.
- A city-run jobs resource center in West Oakland — the low-income community of color adjacent to the project, where unemployment rates run as high as 45 percent — will connect residents to training, pre-apprentice programs, and jobs.
The project also brings environmental gains for West Oakland, including freight rail service to reduce truck traffic and pollution, and the relocation of two recycling plants from the neighborhood onto the site. A community oversight board will monitor compliance.
Eyes on the prize
The agreement culminates years of debate over the future of the Oakland Army Base, which closed in 1999. The city championed an ambitious development to grow the economy. Revive Oakland, a coalition of faith leaders, unions, youth organizers, and advocates for communities of color, came together under the banner of economic justice in a city where African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, combined, make up nearly 70 percent of the population, and 22 percent of residents live in poverty.
"We were promised that when the base was rebuilt, it would bring good jobs for the community," said Kate O'Hara, Revive Oakland campaign director at the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy. "Now we are making good on that promise and creating real opportunities for people here."
Coalition members worked with city officials to develop the good jobs framework. What began as a contentious debate painstakingly led to a consensus package of policies adopted unanimously by the city council and used as a framework in negotiations with the developers. Blackwell, who presided over the multiparty talks, said the key was getting everyone to keep their eye on the prize.
"It's being straightforward and transparent with all the parties involved, and focusing on what each one wanted to achieve," said Blackwell.
More good jobs = less violence
Local youth leaders built momentum for the campaign by focusing on how good jobs can reduce violence in their communities. The Good Jobs Organizing Academy of the Urban Peace Movement, a youth empowerment organization and a member of the coalition, convened young people who hosted a 300-person youth concert with the theme, "More good jobs = less violence." Peace movement activists like Rayna Smith spoke publicly and movingly about their experiences with violence and their hopes for a prosperous future.
Smith was only a year old when her pregnant mother was shot in the head one April night in Oakland. She lived on life support until she gave birth to a healthy boy, in August. Then she died. Smith, now 22, has seen more people than she can count affected by crime and violence, and as she told the developers and the city council, she knows the solution: "Jobs, jobs jobs," she said "I'm 110 percent positive that when people get jobs, the crime rate will go down."
Revive Oakland is now turning its attention to the second half of the project, on land owned by the Port of Oakland, to make sure it incorporates similar job standards.