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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Nov. 29, 2019 10 months ago

Under construction: Employment rule needs work, builders say

Contractors fight back against a controversial St. Petersburg hiring law.

Should contractors who want to bid on jobs in construction-crazy St. Petersburg be compelled to hire apprentices, veterans, convicted felons and people whose incomes fall below the poverty line, instead of using their own employees?

That’s a question raised by the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, which filed a lawsuit Nov. 8 that challenges the Sunshine City’s Apprenticeship and Disadvantaged Worker Ordinances. The rule calls for 15% of a project’s work hours to be allocated to apprentices and an additional 15% to be allocated to disadvantaged workers.

“The city is asking companies to bid on projects, but they’re only able to utilize 70% of their own workforce,” ABC President and CEO Steve Cona III tells Coffee Talk. “They’re having to hire another 30% of the workforce that technically is unskilled. It becomes very problematic for our members who are trying to deliver a quality project, … and it’s not fair to the companies bidding on the project.”

The ordinances went into effect about a year and a half ago, Cona says. In January, ABC sent a letter to the city of St. Petersburg that detailed the organization’s concerns. City officials, he says, did not respond to the letter or concerns. 

“They chose to go ahead and implement these policies without input from the stakeholders, from the construction industry,” Cona says. “So that left us no choice but to file this lawsuit.”

Cona says ABC supports the spirit of the ordinances, but it’s the organization’s position that state government, not local municipalities, should regulate such matters.

“ABC is the one of the largest providers of apprenticeship training in the state,” he says. “We believe the state has authority over how our apprentices work on job sites, and for a local government like the city of St. Pete to mandate so many work hours for apprentices, who technically haven't learned their craft yet, is harmful to construction firms.”

Tampa-based Cotney Construction Law is representing ABC in the lawsuit. Benjamin Kirby, a spokesman for St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, tells Coffee Talk the city will not be commenting on the litigation. 

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