Government contracts have long been awarded to the lowest bidder. But as more American cities invest in updating transit systems and rebuilding infrastructure, local municipalities are allowing a new factor to influence who wins a bid — jobs.
Across this country, U.S. transit agencies are increasingly looking at the long-term economic impacts on city projects rather than simply selecting bids based on the lowest price. Since July alone, three major transit purchases by Amtrak, the Chicago Transit Authority and the Maryland Transit Administration have awarded contracts to companies that include employment incentives.
“Jobs shouldn’t be an afterthought when you’re spending billions of public dollars,” says Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor and a member of the coalition Jobs to Move America.
The coalition, comprised of more than 40 groups, estimates that public transportations agencies could boost 53,000 new American jobs with decent wages through forthcoming transit projects in cities including Houston, New York, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Seattle and Baltimore.
Ramirez, who helped secure a $2 billion project that will see 800 new rail cars added to Chicago’s transit system, is a part of the “Build Chicago” partnership launched with the Chicago Transit Authority. The city announced the partnership in July as part of an effort to ensure that bidders for the new rail fleet project include an outline of the number and type of new jobs they intend on creating alongside the new cars.
“Smarter transit purchasing is happening at the local and regional level,” says Jacquelyne Grimshaw, Vice Chair of the Chicago Transit Authority Board and Vice President of the Center for Neighborhood Technology. “As cities transform our approach to transit contracting, we can address this jobs crisis and put our public dollars to their best use.”
Elsewhere, Amtrak outlined a similar request in its bidding process for 28 new high-speed rail cars and the Maryland Transit Administration also included plans to boost job creation in the $400 million purchase of Washington D.C.’s Metro Purple Line. Maryland residents in two counties are developing a plan to create affordable housing and economic growth around the expansion of that line. The Purple Line Compact plan is aimed at keeping people in the neighborhood rather than pricing out lower-income families.
As more transit agencies incorporate stipulations about how contractors plan to hire, pay and create career paths for potential manufacturing jobs, the bidding process will shift to become less about price and more about value.
“Good jobs manufacturing buses and trains are a commonsense way to improve the economy and share prosperity more widely,” says George Wentworth, a senior staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project.