The headline in The Gazette read, "Schenectady official plans crackdown on minority hiring compliance."
That was on May 10.
It's been over five years since the city of Schenectady announced that it was finally fed up with contractors flouting its minority hiring rule and that it would be taking action.
Yet here we are in June 2014, and companies that refuse to hire minorities and women for city jobs — companies like Carver Construction Co. — are still being awarded lucrative city contracts.
The city has set an affirmative action goal for every contractor to spend 12 percent of its contracts on hiring minorities and women. They don't have to be the company's regular employees. The 12 percent can include subcontractors hired by the company. That's about one out of every eight workers, or three people on a crew of 25.
Doesn't sound like a hard goal to meet, does it?
There's a reason for this goal. Before anyone starts crying "reverse discrimination," realize that minority hiring quotas are often the only way for traditionally discriminated populations to overcome existing barriers and to break into a field. And if you think we don't need such goals in 2014, just look at the pay differential between women and men and the employment differential between whites and minorities. There's still a gap that must be closed. Requiring 12 percent of contracts to be devoted to women and/or minorities is not an outrageous or unattainable standard to hold.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Schenectady County's population of 154,727 people was 51.6 percent women and 20.4 percent non-white. Knock off the kids and senior citizens, and you've got more than 81,000 working-age adults to pick from, one fifth of whom are minorities and half of whom are women.
Yet Carver Construction has claimed for years that it can't find one woman or one minority among all those people who can handle a job on a crew laying pipes in the ground. It was blackballed by the city for years over this dubious claim, but has since been allowed back in the bidding pool.
Carver claims today, as it has since 2008, that it can only find white men to fill the job of laying 48-inch-wide pipes 18 feet underground. Fair enough. That's a highly skilled and dangerous job.
But what about the jobs that take place on the ground? Does anyone seriously believe that the company can't find two or three non-white, non-male workers to perform other tasks such as directing traffic around the worksite, operating heavy equipment, driving a truck or doing inventory? Not one potential subcontractor is owned by a woman or a minority, or has those employees on its staff? Seriously?
No one is telling these companies to hire unqualified people for their most complex jobs. They can meet their quotas by hiring someone in any of their jobs. And if they don't like the requirement or can't find the minority workers to fill it, then they don't have to bid on city contracts.
One problem the city has is that its minority hiring goal for contracts is just that, a goal. It's not mandatory. Another is that the city is required to accept the lowest bids from "responsible” bidders. So when companies seek contracts, it's pretty difficult for the city to turn them down if they don't meet the suggested hiring goal but submit the lowest bid.
City officials have granted waivers to Carver and others to allow the companies to qualify as responsible bidders. But bidders that ignore hiring rules are not responsible and should no longer be treated as such.
The city needs to stop pussy-footing around and put some teeth into its minority hiring practices. It should blackball all companies, including Carver, with a history of not meeting the goals. Companies that are hired through the bidding process and then don’t fulfill the goal should be fined or have a percentage of payments withheld.
If the city continues to grant exceptions to its rule, companies will keep taking advantage of them. And then, no progress will ever be made.