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NO INCENTIVE FOR MEETING DIVERSITY GOALS

After more than a year and $109 million spent to rebuild city schools and -- supposedly -- the lives of minorities who get paychecks from the giant project, it's time to start naming names:

D.V. Brown & Associates.

TGR Enterprises.

Davis Fire Protection & Services.

Clayton B. Obersheimer.

Spencer-Virnoche.

These five are the worst offenders among more than 30 companies that have failed to meet minority hiring goals on the project. While the work force at each site is supposed to be at least 23 percent minority, these companies are running jobs with minority representation in the single digits, according to data from diversity monitor Bevlar & Associates.

No wonder critics complain that they see few minority faces -- or women, for that matter -- working on the schools despite the public money being spent. It seems that some companies are imposing a virtual blackout, pun intended.

What do the firms have to say for themselves? Not much.

D.V. Brown, with a $1.8 million contract at the Native American Magnet School, declined to comment. So did Davis, which has a $351,000 contract at Emerson Middle School. Ditto for TGR, which has a $2.3 million contract at Stanton and Sedita academies and bounced any questions to project manager LP Ciminelli.

The three firms have put a new twist on an old adage: If you can't say something good about yourself, don't say anything at all.

Obersheimer, with a $996,00 contract at Emerson, blames its problems on a minority subcontractor it says went out of business.

Spencer-Virnoche, with a $589,000 contract at Highgate Heights and the former East High, blames unions for not supplying enough minority workers and says labor pacts preclude it from looking elsewhere -- which is flat wrong, according to diversity monitors. The project labor agreement signed by the unions says that in cases of such contract conflicts, "the provisions of this agreement shall prevail." In other words, there's no excuse.

The fact that the overall project is at 22.79 percent -- close to the 23 percent goal -- as the first phase winds down means that some companies are exceeding the target. Mader Construction has a work force that's 40 percent minority on one contract. Scott Lawn Yard is at nearly 35 percent on one of its jobs.

Firms such as those prove that it can be done. They also help compensate for companies that are thumbing their noses at the goals -- and at the community. No company should be allowed to get away with that.

What should be done? The answer seems obvious: In any other business, if you don't fulfill the terms of the deal, you don't get paid. That's what needs to happen here.

"Those types of measures have not been employed -- as of yet, anyway," said Gene Partridge, senior vice president at LP Ciminelli, the project manager.

Instead, they've been trying to help companies find workers or boost hiring in one area if they're short in another. That makes sense, up to a point. But we're past that point with some of these companies.

We're at the point at which cynics will wonder if the commitment to diversity on what eventually is supposed to be a $1 billion infusion to renovate schools was all rhetoric.

Business is all about the bottom line. There are some companies that will never do the right thing unless hit over the head with a sack of money. Keep rewarding underperformance, and they'll keep underperforming.

We already know that some of these companies aren't serious about diversity. The question now is whether Ciminelli and the Joint Schools Construction Board are serious -- serious enough to stop showing them the money.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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