By Che Timmons
On Tuesday, March 7, the Oakland City Council approved developer Boston Properties’ 25-story, 402-unit (including 45 on-site affordable units) residential tower next to MacArthur BART.
Not only will this project be a boom for the Temescal neighborhood, with its mix of one, two, and three bedroom apartments, as well as 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, it will also have a significant impact on local workers. Boston Properties has agreed to a project labor agreement (PLA) for constructing the new tower, which means 50 percent of the workers helping to build it will be local hires.
This is how buildings in Oakland ought to be built.
An estimated $6 billion in development dollars is rushing into the city right now. With the San Francisco Bay Area enjoying an unprecedented population boom, real estate developers are flocking to the area to buy any spare piece of land. Oakland has more undeveloped land than San Francisco at cheaper prices.
But unfortunately, so many projects in Oakland are being built without the community, and specifically local workers, in mind. The developer SunCal for instance, is planning on building 935 homes on the former Oak Knoll Naval Hospital property, but has no plans to build affordable housing on the site or use local labor in construction.
Part of the reason that developers don’t want to use local labor is because they don’t want to hire union workers, who make up a large portion of the local construction industry. Union craftsman earn from $45,000 to $80,000 a year with benefits depending on their job classification. Non-union workers make much less and many commute from the San Joaquin Valley because the wages they earn mean they can’t live in the Bay Area.
East Bay cities are missing out on millions of dollars in sales tax revenue when out-of-town construction workers from the central valley take their hard earned wages and spend them in their hometowns.
Unions also provide apprenticeship opportunities for their workers, allowing their new members to get real world work experience at job sites. These apprenticeships help people get back on their feet and create the middle class.
A local construction worker, Sadakao, was incarcerated for 15 years, but is now a union tradesman making a family-sustaining wage. His opportunity came from a workforce development agreement negotiated between local unions and developers. He was accepted into a Labor Management Apprenticeship program, where he gained college credits and a decent wage while becoming one of the best-trained construction workers in our nation.
It may be slightly more costly for developers to use local union labor, but with them paying for cheaper land in the city, building towers that tax our infrastructure, and being assured of a steady income from substantial rents, the least they can do is provide more middle class opportunities for the community.
The MacArthur BART tower is the first building Boston Properties has chosen to build in Oakland. By agreeing to a PLA, the developer is setting a powerful example to outside real estate interests that if they want to build in Oakland, it is possible to benefit the local community and benefit the middle class.
Che Timmons is a Business Representative for the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342.