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Several Buffalo Common Council members Monday proposed stepped-up minority and female hiring goals for the billion-dollar school construction project.

The Council members see the renovation of 80 city schools and the construction of six new ones over 10 to 12 years as a chance to spawn new businesses, fill jobs and create economic opportunities for minorities.

The Council members' proposed recommendations to the city school district and Joint School Construction Board call for 23 percent minority hiring and 7 percent female hiring.

The Council members suggested similar goals for hiring minorities and women as contractors.

Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III called the goals moderate and cautious.

"We're going to be stretched a little bit as a community to achieve those goals, but they're well within reach," Fisher said.

Fisher pointed to the Erie County Courthouse project under construction downtown, which has surpassed state and county goals for hiring minorities and women, both as workers and contractors.

Through July, the minority work force was 26.1 percent, nearly double the state requirement of 13.2 percent, and the women-owned business participation was 5 percent, over twice as much as the 2 percent county goal.

Fisher, chairman of the Council's Minority Business Enterprise Committee, said he has yet to obtain any documents that spell out the board's preliminary intentions regarding hiring of minority-owned contractors and many other key details of the project.

Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson said there's no reason the proposed goals cannot be met.

"It's not like you're trying to do it all in one year," Thompson said. "That might be challenging. But you're talking over a period of seven to 12 years."

A resolution proposing the hiring goals is sponsored by Fisher, Thompson, University Council Member Betty Jean Grant, and Council Member at Large Beverly Gray.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said his
administration is committed to securing the involvement of minority and women-owned businesses in the school project, but he declined to comment on the councilors' proposed hiring goals.

"What that number is at this particular time, I'm not comfortable in saying," Masiello said. "But whatever the number is in the first year doesn't have to be the same as in the third and fourth years."

Lumon Ross, the president of the Western New York Chapter of the Black Chamber of Commerce, said he is concerned that if the city enters into a project labor agreement with labor unions that minority-owned companies could be prevented from putting all of their employees to work.

Such agreements usually set guidelines for how many nonunion workers can work on a project. Often, a company is allowed to employ its nonunion worker for every union worker from the union hall it puts on the job.

Such a provision could keep black-owned businesses from employing as many blacks as it otherwise could, Ross said.

"We don't need a union person who is not black to be put in that (job)," Ross said. "The community has a healthy number of blacks ready to go to work."

Fisher said he has not heard complaints from minority businesses about previous project labor agreements.

But Ross said companies are unlikely to publicly complain because they do not want to risk losing contracts.

"I'm opposed to African-Americans not getting work," Ross said, "and to a community dependent on their business people to hire them not being able to do so."

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