By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — The city council voted Tuesday to approve an ordinance that would require community benefits in city contracts awarded to private companies.
“I hope it creates better transparency so we know where every tax dollar is going and have better accountability about what we put our hard-earned dollars into,” said Odessa Kelly, Co-Chair of Stand Up Nashville, a coalition of community-based organizations and labor unions.
Businesses that get tax breaks, use public assets, or receive other incentives would be required to disclose wage and job information before the council would approve a city contract. Contractors would also have to submit quarterly reports to show they are in compliance with the agreement.
The bill has twenty-one sponsors, the number required for passage, and the bill will face a third reading and final vote January 2, 2018.
“When corporation seek to do business with government they ought to explain what the benefits to the constituents would be and then if they don’t perform as they agreed to, we ought to be able to call back the tax incentives,” said Jim Buckley, a retired steelworker.
The bill would require contractors to disclose labor or health and safety violations and any legal actions filed against them or their subcontractors in state or federal courts in the last ten years.
A University of Illinois study released last May found Nashville had more job-related injuries than six other southern cities. Although it is required for everyone who works in construction in Tennessee, forty-two percent of Tennessee’s construction workers don’t have workers’ compensation insurance. Less than one-fifth of construction workers in Nashville covered their medical bills with workers’ comp last year.
The “Build a Better South” report found contractors, subcontractors, and temp agencies gipped construction workers of $28.9 million in wages in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and Nashville in 2016.
Stand Up Nashville drafted the bill and wants development in the Music City to provide middle-class jobs and affordable housing for working people. The coalition says community benefit contracts are the best way to get them.
According to Stand Up, giving millions of tax dollars to private developers “with no strings attached and without adequate public input” means poorly paid and unsafe jobs and puts more of a burden on taxpayers.
“There is a certain amount of dollars that fall on the back of the general public to provide a safety net to folks who are working for employers who pay only the minimum wage and don’t offer benefits,” said Anne Barnett, co-chair of Stand Up Nashville and a Community Coordinator with the Central Labor Council.
Advocates say the Do Better Bill will ensure that working people share in the benefits of the city’s unprecedented growth.