Six years after Carver Construction Co. was blacklisted from city jobs for claiming it was impossible to hire minorities, the company is back — with the same excuse.
Carver won a bid this year to lay underground pipes for the city. But just as it has in years past, the company isn’t even beginning to meet the city’s minority employment goals, which are included in every contract.
Company controller Nick Laraway said the problem was that no qualified person, other than white men, applied for a job.
The job he’s advertising is for experienced pipe-layers who can work 18 feet underground. It’s the most dangerous and difficult job on the project, and generally requires years of experience. The odds of finding an unemployed, local, nonwhite person for the position are slim, said Affirmative Action Director Miriam Cajuste.
It’s the exact same job that Carver advertised for in 2008, prior to asking for a waiver from the affirmative action goals on the grounds that only white men were available.
The city’s affirmative action goal is for every contractor to spend 12 percent of its contract on hiring minorities and women, either through direct hires or through subcontracting. Companies that can’t reach the goal can apply for a waiver, as Carver routinely did in the past.
But this time, the company isn’t getting a waiver so easily.
Cajuste tells companies to think outside the box. Rather than just advertising for the most difficult position, one for which it is hard to find any qualified applicant, she asks them to think about other jobs.
An excavation job involves digging, trucking, flaggers and other positions. And minorities include anyone other than white men, including subcontracting with a company owned by a woman.
But Laraway said he didn’t need anyone for other jobs. Carver has a full staff, including truckers.
“We’re advertising for the position that we need,” he said.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said the company should have considered that before bidding on the job.
“If they know they can’t meet those goals, because they have everyone on staff, then don’t bid on it,” she said.
Cajuste has also said in the past that some companies manipulate the system by deliberately advertising only for extremely specific jobs that probably won’t get any applicants.
She said Tuesday that she stood by her previous comments, but could not yet comment specifically about Carver.
However, she added, “You remember. How come they don’t remember?”
On Friday, she sent a report to Mayor Gary McCarthy explaining the situation. McCarthy is now investigating and also asked the City Council to tighten the regulations so that it would be easier for him to enforce the rules.
“It’s a ‘goal,’ ” he said. McCarthy said some contractors don’t take it as seriously as they would a requirement. The City Council discussed it behind closed doors Monday, but for now, there’s not much they could do if Carver doesn’t hire a single nonwhite workers.
“There’s no penalty,” said Porterfield, who had repeatedly raised concerns about giving Carver another contract after the company’s track record in 2008. The council refused to give Carver a contract for years, but eventually gave in when the company was the only one to bid on emergency snow removal work.
After that came this year’s pipe-laying job, which Carver only got after city officials said they would watch the company closely.
They aren’t impressed.
Porterfield said the council is now discussing adding a financial penalty to all future contracts. She is suggesting a penalty of up to 12 percent of the total contract, based on how much of the affirmative action goal is met.
She also said she doesn’t want to hire Carver again if Carver doesn’t hire minorities.
“It sends a message that it’s OK to do that, and that’s not a message we want to send,” she said.
Councilman Vince Riggi said that if Carver doesn’t improve, he’ll also vote to blacklist the company again.
“Even if they’re the lowest bidder, lowest doesn’t always mean correct,” he said. “I think we don’t do business with them.”
He noted that the law requires them to choose the lowest responsible bidder.
“We can’t consider them a responsible contractor. If they’re not complying with the rules, they’re not responsible,” he said. “It would be the same if they were doing shoddy work.”
The difference is that the 12 percent minority employment goal is a goal — not a requirement. But companies sign a statement in their bid documents agreeing to try to meet the goal, and many of them meet the goals. It’s rare for a company to end up with a 0 percent rate, Cajuste said.