A newly proposed ordinance in Milwaukee would give a bidding edge to city contractors who hire felons, help workers earn high school diplomas, or provide other "socially responsible" employee incentives.
The proposal, introduced by Milwaukee Alderwoman Milele Coggs, would award contractors additional points in the city's bid-scoring system if they took three or more actions to reduce barriers to employment. Coggs said she decided to put the ordinance forward after meeting a contractor who had helped his workers get drivers licenses, pay legal fees and surmount other difficulties.
The new legislation is aimed at rewarding such companies and encouraging others to do more for their employees, Coggs said.
"You think about what can we do as policy makers to attempt to get others to be more socially responsible in what they do," she said during a committee meeting on Wednesday. "So this legislation is just one small piece of Milwaukee leading the way to encourage contractors who work with the city of Milwaukee - who we spend taxpayer dollars with - to make the barriers to employment a little less for groups of people."
Companies that adopt at least three policies or practices from a list of more than a dozen identified in the ordinance could get a slight edge when trying to win public contracts. Specifically, they'd get a 5 percent boost in the city's bid-scoring system. But they could only get that advantage if their bid were within $25,000 of the lowest offer.
And there would be other obligations.
Contractors would also have to sign a notarized affidavit stating that they provide paid sick leave or other benefits to their workers, according to Rhonda Kelsey, Milwaukee purchasing director. Companies also could be required to hand their employee handbooks over to city officials, who could then use that information to verify that the new ordinance's requirements are being met. The city spent $84.3 million in 2017 on contracts with independent companies and $104.3 million in 2016.
Here are some of the steps employers could take to qualify for the city's socially-responsible contractor ordinance:
- Hire people with felony convictions
- Help employees earn high school diplomas
- Provide internships, job shadowing, on-the-job training or similar opportunities
- Help employees obtain instruction and training in math, construction and budgeting
- Help employees obtain driver's licenses, transportation vouchers, work clothes and safety gear, legal aid, career training, school supplies and other benefits
- Provide breast-feeding centers for employees who are nursing children.
- Provide a minimum of 120 hours of paid sick leave or a minimum of 5 paid sick days.
The proposed ordinance comes after the city tweaked its contractor rules in a way meant to ban offensive language or conduct on public job sites. Those rules were a direct response to images posted on social media showing employees of the contractor American Sewer Services, of Rubicon, carrying guns at a city job site. A subsequent photograph showed an American Sewer Services employee's cooler decorated with a confederate flag sticker and a Klu Klux Klan sticker.
Milwaukee's socially-responsible-bidder ordinance was also sponsored by Aldermen Russell Stamper II, Khalif Rainey, Chantia Lewis, José Pérez, Robert Bauman, Ashanti Hamilton and Cavalier "Chevy" Johnson. It drew support from the YWCA and 9to5 National Association of Working Women.
"When job quality is low, at risk communities are unable to be stable providers," Astar Herndon, 9to5's state director, said. "The socially responsible ordinance can help us move closer to that standard."