Miami-Dade County commissioners digging deeper into port tunnel hiring efforts
By Ashley D. Torres
Miami Access Tunnel's report on the Port of Miami tunnel federal contract obligations and hiring procedures and requirements met criticism from the Miami-Dade commission, which expressed concern about the number of local businesses and residents that would be involved.
Construction of the twin port tunnels is estimated at $652 million and it's to provide about 400 local jobs. However, commissioners requested the Friday report because of questions and complaints from residents about the availability of employment and contracts.
Federal contract requirements stipulate that 8.1% of funds, about $26 million, after the amount for the tunnel boring machine is subtracted must go toward contracts with disadvantaged businesses for work on roadways, water and sewer, and other construction.
"The DBE, or the disadvantaged enterprise, goal is assessed at trying to allow individuals that have been underutilized in the construction industry historically," said Stanley Ford, Florida Department of Transportation's contract compliance manager. "The intent of the DBE goal is to alleviate that."
Although Ford and other access tunnel personnel assured the commission of plans to exceed federal requirements, Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who requested the report, said she remained concerned about small business expectations. Ms. Jordan requested a more detailed plan that states contracts counted towards the 8.1% so small businesses can be aware of the percentage of contract money left.
"It is very important that we give local opportunities," she said, "to those individuals that have the specializations here."
The project must also provide 73 on-the-job training graduations. In order to apply for the training, individuals must be minority, female or receiving government assistance. Those hired are paid during training.
In addition, 39.5% of hires must be minority and 6.9% female.
Miami Access Tunnel has conducted several job fairs, most recently in Overtown, to recruit potential workers. The 14 most recent hires came from job fairs, said Christopher Hodgkins, the access tunnel's vice president.
Of the current 67 port tunnel project office personnel, 27 are non-local tunnel experts. The remaining 40 and an additional 41 persons on site are Miami-Dade residents.
"Our intention here is, as we grow and as you have been told," said Mr. Hodgkins, "there will be approximately 400 jobs."
However, these jobs only include direct construction opportunities.
For example, work inside the tunnel associated with the boring of the tunnel was not included in the project hiring and contract requirements. The Federal Highway Administration excluded the cost of the tunnel boring machine, estimated at $160 million, from the total project amount, which impacts the percentage to disadvantaged businesses. The boring machine was excluded from requirements, Mr. Ford said, because of the specialized nature of the work.
In referencing the exclusion of jobs inside the twin tunnels, Commissioner Jordan said, "I am concerned that we have missed opportunities for this community."
In addition to job fairs, Miami Access Tunnel has discussed employment opportunities with local unions in an effort to prequalify them for positions, Mr. Hodgkins said.
Nonetheless, Laborers International Union representative Albert Huston Jr. came before the commission, as requested by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, to state that, although discussions occurred with the access tunnel team, only two workers have been hired. Out of the 1,200 union members, Mr. Huston said, about a third are trained in tunnel work.
"I would like to see the union people hired on the tunnel," Ms. Edmonson said.
Miami Access Tunnel is to go before either the commission's transportation or seaport committee to discuss the job opportunities further. There was some confusion as to which would hear the next report but commission Chairman Dennis Moss said he would decide jurisdiction.
"We get the hell beat out of us for supporting these projects because we think that they are great projects for the community and it is the right thing to do," Mr. Moss added. "But we do that on the basis of promises made and we're looking for those promises to be met."