Director, Business Initiatives and Job Quality
New York City Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development
What is the job quality challenge you are seeking to address?
Many businesses want to provide quality jobs but lack the information or tools they need to support this goal. Business owners face pressures that falsely pit profits against payroll. For small businesses in particular, which make up 98 percent of New York City businesses and employ over half of the city’s workforce, this can be a catch-22. Without the resources and capital to proactively invest in their workforce, they may be unable to develop and retain the best talent. And without a strong workforce, their businesses may struggle to remain competitive.
Within the New York City Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, I lead our efforts that sit at the intersection of opportunity for businesses and workers. We are working to shift the business paradigm from one in which labor is viewed solely as a cost, to one in which labor is an asset that drives innovation and merits investment. Through our Best for NYC initiative, we equip businesses with tools to improve the quality of jobs for New Yorkers. We’re also focused on ways we can align the city’s policy levers and incentives to support business decisions that drive shared prosperity.
Tell us about the initiative you lead, Best for NYC.
In 2014, we outlined New York City’s workforce development agenda, which includes a vision for improving job quality by increasing the number of high road employers. We leveraged the business tools and standards created by the nonprofit organization B Lab to measure high road employer practices that include providing a living wage, maintaining a healthy workplace, and creating opportunities for workers to advance.
We launched Best for NYC in 2015 with a network of more than 40 community and business organizations that help businesses use B Lab tools to improve practices and make a positive impact on workers and their communities. To date, more than 1,500 businesses, in many sectors and employing more than 65,000 workers, have participated in the initiative.
This business leadership has inspired action in every borough of New York City and beyond. Civic leaders in the cities of Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro, and Geneva, and the states of Colorado and Rhode Island, have partnered with B Lab to launch “Best for” campaigns in their communities. It has also informed the work of other Job Quality Fellows who are promoting business investments in job quality.
How do businesses participate in the Best for NYC assessment?
Businesses begin the program by completing an online assessment. This assessment covers practices in areas ranging from governance to talent management and is tailored to company size and industry. Within the assessment, business leaders can access tools to help them get started setting and working toward new goals. For instance, one question on worker wages directs businesses to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator because we’ve found that many people who think they are paying a living wage are surprised to learn how much it really costs to live in our area. This understanding can help businesses rethink their goals for workforce compensation.
The assessment also offers links to case studies of similar businesses that have adopted better workforce practices, such as flexible schedules for hourly employees or paid leave for primary caregivers. Businesses can see how their practices compare to others’ that have completed the assessment and prioritize areas for improvement. In this way, we are making the business case for better workforce practices by affirming that investments like these are not only good for workers and communities, but also help businesses stay competitive.
These kinds of changes require leadership and focus. We know some businesses bring their assessments to staff meetings, where they can be used to inform plans for organization-wide changes. In time, we hope businesses will measure their workforce performance with the same rigor and frequency as they would measure their financial performance.
What services do you provide to support businesses participating in Best for NYC?
We also connect businesses to our network of community and business organizations that can help them achieve their impact goals. For instance, we recently formed a partnership with Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners to provide financial wellness services to Best for NYC businesses’ employees. This not only provides a critical benefit for workers, but also helps these Best for NYC businesses to compete with larger employers for workers.
And finally, we recognize businesses that complete the Best for NYC Challenge on our website and at an annual awards ceremony. We’ve tried to create a big tent to celebrate improved practices and to elevate businesses that don’t generally get this type of recognition. We also believe showcasing these businesses and their commitment to their workforce is important for inspiring others.
Best for NYC tools and services have influenced workforce practices at businesses like Café Grumpy, a Brooklyn-based coffee roaster and brewer that has cafes across Manhattan and Brooklyn. As part of Best for NYC, Café Grumpy expanded its paid leave benefits for employees. It also partnered with a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with disabilities, broadening its talent pipeline and creating impact its team is proud of.
What motivates businesses to adopt better workforce practices?
Businesses are motivated to be competitive, and in New York City’s tight labor market, that means thinking about how to be an employer of choice for workers. Businesses know the high costs of turnover and onboarding new employees, from recruitment and lost productivity to missed business opportunities. Best for NYC offers tools to grow and retain talent as a business strategy.
We also know that the boon of a contract and affordable capital are part of what motivate – or make possible – better workforce practices. With the support of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, we are piloting a program to align access to contracting and capital with business technical assistance. This pilot, called the Bronx Good Jobs Collaborative, was driven by interest among large Bronx-based institutions in increasing their positive economic impact on local businesses and communities. The challenge was that Bronx-based businesses faced barriers both in bidding on contracts and creating and sustaining quality jobs.
How does the Bronx Good Jobs Collaborative support local businesses?
Through our pilot, participating Bronx-based businesses access information about available contracting opportunities through BronXchange, an online procurement platform. Businesses then receive coaching and technical assistance aimed at increasing their competitiveness to bid on contracts and improving the quality of the jobs they offer. As the pilot continues, businesses will be rewarded for improving their workforce practices on the BronXchange platform through a transparent rating system based on the B Lab assessment, which buyers factor into procurement decisions. To date, 11 businesses that employ more than 100 workers in the Bronx have been able to compete for new contracts and adopt key management practices that both strengthen their business competitiveness and improve the quality of jobs for their workers.
One of these businesses is Palante Electrical Contracting Corporation. Through coaching, CEO Jovino Vega and his son Joey Vega were able to codify workforce practices—including onboarding, performance management, and conflict resolution— that both strengthen their business and support their workers. Palante landed a contract through the BronXchange platform to provide electrical upgrades for a Bronx-based nonprofit organization. With technical assistance from our partners at the small business development organization Business Outreach Network, Palante also qualified as a vendor for local government projects and has since been awarded several contracts for city construction projects.
What are your emerging goals and priorities as they relate to job quality?
Our big goal is to continue increasing the number of businesses creating high-quality jobs and building community wealth in New York City. We plan to do this by expanding the number of employers participating in Best for NYC and developing new strategies to support businesses to invest in their workers. We’re exploring ways we can align policy and business stakeholders across supply chains – including investors, lenders and business support organizations – to further incentivize businesses to invest in quality jobs.
The timing of the Job Quality Fellowship could not have been more critical for me. The candid perspectives of my colleagues across labor, business, workforce and economic development have helped me to better understand what it will take to truly achieve shared prosperity. It has really encouraged me to build a bigger table so that different city actors can see themselves as part of the initiative and benefit from the movement we’re creating.
Tweet “We are working to shift the business paradigm from one in which labor is viewed solely as a cost, to one in which labor is an asset that drives innovation and merits investment.” -Christine Curella
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We are grateful to the Ford Foundation and The Prudential Foundation for their support of this work.