Labor & Business

First Source mandates the hiring of PVD residents but the city refuses to enforce it

Businesses that receive $25k or more in city loans, subsidies or tax breaks and have four or more employees are required by law to hire Providence residents, but businesses are not complying, said Providence residents, and the city is not enforcing the ordinance.

Published on October 20, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

On Wednesday over two dozen Providence residents gathered outside the office of Mayor Jorge Elorza on the second floor of City Hall to “expose the fact that Mayor Elorza and the City Council have refused to enforce the First Source ordinance for many years.” First Source is a program set up in 1986 to benefit the working class and low-income communities of Providence by providing jobs and job training at businesses in Providence benefitting from abatements from the city. Businesses that receive $25k or more in city loans, subsidies or tax breaks and have four or more employees are required by law to hire Providence residents. The businesses are not complying, said those in attendance, and the city is not enforcing the ordinance.

See: Residents push city to enforce resident-first hiring ordinance

“First source has not been advertised in the communities so very few people know about it,” said John Prince, with Rhode Island / Massachusetts Solidarity with Incarcerated Workers (SWI). “On top of that the website to apply for jobs does not work… Job creation is always the justification for taxpayer-funded giveaways but it is meaningless if Providence residents are shut out of the jobs and job trainings created.

“It makes me furious,” continued Prince, “That Mayor Elorza ran enforcement of First Source, but it was just a dog and pony show for him… We call on the new Mayor, Brett Smiley, to enforce the First Source ordinance.”

The protesters issued the following demands:

  • The newly elected Mayor and the City Council enforce the First Source ordinance;
  • Open the books to transparency and public oversight. Issue quarterly reports to SWI including numbers hired and demographic information on those hires. Audit companies to ensure compliance;
  • Fix the website and include clear instructions on how to apply;
  • Make the First Source program accessible to the community by advertising it via flyers in multiple languages in schools, unemployment offices, churches, community centers, etc. Advertise on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. Include a list of job openings on the website that is updated weekly; and,
  • Increase the $250k budget annual for First Source. That number has remained unchanged since the ordinance was adopted in 1986.

The 1986 language in the ordinance is outdated said Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz. “They said they were going to hire people from Providence, but they can make exceptions. If [a company] has a vacant, but they fill it with someone who already works inside there as a promotion, they don’t need to fill it with a Providence resident… They have loopholes.

“We talk about equity, we talk about hiring practices, specifically around women and minorities here in the City of Providence,” continued Muñoz. “When you look at unemployment rates, they are disproportionately impacting our communities of color. How does [the language in the ordinance] reflect equity? How does it reflect accountability in terms of the structures that are in place to force developers to hire?”

“We all know people in Providence need jobs. We know there’s been no government accountability,” said Bella Robinson, Executive Director of COYOTE RI. “We should not be spending any taxpayer money on developers and subsidized housing unless 100% of the units are affordable housing, for people in the community.”

“I was here in these same halls in 1986 when First Source was introduced to the City Council,” said Calvin Drayton from the George Wiley Center. “This ordinance sat there, unenforced for, well, you count the years…”

“Like any other program in the city’s purview we depend on [First Source] to help people with employment and job opportunities,” said Rochelle Lee.

DARE has been working on this for years,” said Anusha Alles from Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE). “It’s so discouraging to see the deafness of city government and the state government to people coming over and over again asking for the same things: We want job opportunities. We want housing. We want affordable housing. It just doesn’t feel like th city council cares. It feels like complete indifference and deliberate neglect of people of low income.”

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“The numbers show that for TSA [tax stabilization agreement] specific projects, only about 20% of those jobs go to Providence residents,” said Diego Arene-Morely, an independent candidate for the Ward 9 City Council seat. Arene-Morley took all the publicly available data on First Source and ran the numbers through a spreadsheet. “And that number has not changed. It’s been about 20% since 2014… The vast majority of people and jobs from companies that benefit from TSAs are non-Providence residents.

Further, “almost 30-40% of all of the jobs that are filled by Providence residents the race and ethnicity of the person that is hired is never disclosed, which is a violation of the First Source ordinance,” continued Arena-Morley. “Violations of the First Source ordinance are grounds for removing TSAs from the companies that receive them. There is significant leverage the city council has, through the existing law, to say to these companies, ‘You need to be hiring people form Providence, otherwise you should not receive tax benefits from us.'”

Additional speakers included:

The group then delivered their demands and information to Mayor Elorza. A representative of the Mayor took the information, telling those in attendance that the Mayor was in a meeting and couldn’t meet with them.

Organizer John Prince was undeterred. He plans to bring these demands to Mayor-elect Brett Smiley and to the new Providence City Council that will take power in January.

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