City projects employed far fewer minorities than usual last year, Affirmative Action Director Miriam Cajuste said as she prepared her report to the city.
“We did not meet our city goals,” she said, calling minority employment “minimal” last year.
The goal is for city-funded projects to have 12 percent minority employment. Contractors are supposed to hire minorities to fill out their work crews after winning the bid for a project.
There is some good news: contractors hired minorities last year without first trying to find ways to avoid it, Cajuste said.
But last year the city saved millions by joining a county contract to repave roads with “hot-recycling,” a specialized system that relies mainly on machinery. Only a small crew is needed.
The company did hire one minority, and used some local workers. That fulfilled the county’s 5 percent minority participation goal — but came nowhere close to the city’s 12 percent goal.
The company was still following the law: since it was a county contract, the company had to meet the county’s requirements, Cajuste said.
Only one paving project wasn’t shared with the county, she said. That project, run by Empire Paving, did meet the city’s requirements, she said.
“But for the total amount of projects we had last year, we did not come within our anticipated goals,” she said.
In previous years, Cajuste had to threaten contractors with blacklisting before they finally hired minority workers.
She said those companies tried to exploit a loophole in the law by announcing they would hire minorities only for specialized tasks. When no one was available, they asked for a waiver on the grounds that there weren’t any qualified minorities for the job.
She told them to instead hire minorities for other facets of the project, including truck driving.
Those problems did not surface last year, Cajuste said.
Following the rules
And she believes the contractor chosen for this year’s big project — the Erie Boulevard streetscape — will abide by the rules.
When Rifenburg Construction Inc. of Troy won the project for $10 million, Cajuste said two minority contractors told her they were delighted.
“They told me this company always does right by the contract,” she said. “I’m optimistic.”
But several owners of small minority contracting firms have recently complained to the City Council that they don’t get hired as subcontractors on big projects.
In response, Councilman Carl Erikson urged them to band together so they could bid on small projects as a group.
That’s possible, but Cajuste had initially warned that the group would still face difficulty getting the capital they would need to start work.
Government jobs pay through reimbursement, so a company must front the money.
But then the county held a meeting last week on how small companies can overcome that problem.
The meeting was packed, with some standing when every seat was taken. Many minorities attended, Cajuste said.
But she didn’t see the people who had complained to the council, she said.
State officials explained that small firms can use a state program to get bonding so they can finance their first jobs — eliminating one of the biggest hurdles for small companies.
As Cajuste listened, she searched the crowd for the men who had complained about the situation.
“Where are they? I was groaning in my seat. They need to hear that!” she said. “The state has a program to help them get bonding!”
Cajuste is also responsible for recruiting minorities for city jobs and will turn in that report soon.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he’s also trying to hire minorities whenever possible — but that the city is under a semi-freeze on hiring.
He needs more minorities to do well on the civil service tests, posting a high enough score that he can hire them, he said.
“The criteria is very strict. You’ve got to pass the test and you have to score where you’re reachable,” he said. “If people are reachable, I’m going to hire them.”