Published in the Spring 2010 issue of SSA Magazine

In Los Angeles, community labor coalitions have pioneered community benefits agreements (CBAs), a legally enforceable contract between neighborhood groups and a private developer that lists specific requirements of a proposed project. “We’ve never seen anything like that before,” says SSA’s Virginia Parks. “These groups can take the developer to court. These CBAs are enforceable. Lots of agreements made with low-income neighborhoods are more akin to promises; they don’t have teeth.”

The first full-fledged CBA was signed in 2001 as part of an expansion of Los Angeles’ Staples Center sports arena that included an entertainment complex, hotels and retail. The agreement included provisions to hire locally for 70 percent of the 5,500 jobs created by the project, to pay workers at least $7.72 per hour with health insurance and to make 20 percent of the housing units affordable to families earning 80 percent or less of the area median income.

Parks says that Los Angeles developers are beginning to see community benefits agreements as “the way business is done in L.A.” They are finding advantages for themselves, too. Most notably, developers are assured local communities will support their plans. “CBAs can fast track the often slow, and costly, development process.” Parks says.