RACINE — Contractors that adopt worker-friendly practices — from hiring felons, to job training, to family leave and breastfeeding accommodations — could get a leg up when bidding for city contracts.

A social responsibility ordinance, proposed by 9to5 Wisconsin and Keep Families First, was introduced by Aldermen John Tate II of the 3rd District and Mollie Jones of the 2nd District and is making its way through the committee process.

At the Public Works and Services committee meeting, which Tate chairs, City Attorney Scott Letteney asked for more time so that his office can work through a draft ordinance Tate submitted on Monday.

Tate said that he would also like to have time to ensure the program works in conjunction with the city’s existing Racine Works program, which was recently updated to require contractors to hire City of Racine residents as 20% of their workforce for city projects.

Mayor Cory Mason also pointed out that the city is in the process of hiring a public works commissioner after Mark Yehlen’s retirement in April, and that the city also will need to hire a purchasing agent since Kathy Kasper is leaving at the end of May. Those hired to fill those positions would be the primary enforcers of the potential policy.

The committee decided to defer, giving Tate and the City Attorney’s office six weeks to work through a draft ordinance. That draft would next be brought back to Public Works and Services.

Incentivizing ‘good workplace policies’

9to5 Wisconsin advocates for “policies that help working families across the state.” The organization promoted the “ban the box” initiative in 2017 that removed the question of whether an applicant for a City of Racine job had been convicted of a felony.

Under the social responsibility ordinance, a contractor would receive extra points when bidding for a city contract if it:

  • Offers paid sick leave and family and medical leave;
  • Offers breastfeeding accommodations;
  • Does not ask applicants about their felony record, and hires felons;
  • Provides child care;
  • Pays living wages;
  • Accommodates pregnancies;
  • Allows collective bargaining;
  • Allows flexible scheduling.

The City of Milwaukee adopted a “socially responsible contractors” ordinance in December.

Tate pointed out at the meeting that his draft is designed to be more carrot than stick; incentivizing employers to put those practices into place rather than punishing those that don’t.

At last week’s City Council meeting, about a half-dozen people spoke on the proposed ordinance, including 9to5 member and Racine resident Mary Pirrello.

“Racine would share in this shining example with the City of Milwaukee to inspire at the state level what good work place policies look like,” Pirrello said. “Let’s be that inspirational leadership for the rest of the city, county and state to follow in the employment arena by adopting these good workplace solutions, as we move away from that legacy of being the third-worst place for African Americans and toward becoming the best place for African Americans, and all community members, to live.”

Ola Baiyewu, executive director of First Choice, voiced support for the kinds of workplaces the program is attempting to promote, but also voiced caution about the ordinance.

“I agree with the social responsibility ordinance, but you have to step very carefully,” Baiyewu said. “Even though this ordinance will not be mandatory, I want you to look very carefully. We do not want employers to pick and choose who are winners and who are losers.”

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Christina Lieffring covers the City of Racine and the City of Burlington and is a not-bad photographer. In her spare time she tries to keep her plants and guinea pigs alive and happy.

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