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Groups protest lack of diversity in hiring for medical campus construction projects

A coalition of local community organizations Friday used the backdrop of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to protest a lack of minority hiring on construction projects in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Specifically, the Contract Compliance Review Committee targeted Roswell Park Cancer Institute and its record of awarding construction contracts to minority and women-owned businesses, as well as the hospital’s internal minority hiring practices. According to Charlie Fisher III, who is chairman of the committee and president of BUILD, the numbers are woeful. In particular, he said, African-Americans are systemically denied an opportunity to work on major construction projects in the city that also are heavily subsidized by the state.

“This protest rally, held on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, is to call attention to the lack of job opportunities and patterns of discrimination against minorities,” Fisher said following the protest outside Roswell Park.

“We’re really looking at the whole Buffalo Medical Campus. When you look at the UB Medical School, the Children’s Hospital, the now-completed government office building, it’s about $1 billion of work,” he added.

Fisher said members of his committee have been monitoring various construction projects and often don’t see any minorities working on them.

“When we’ve gone out and looked, we can’t find black people. Blacks aren’t to be seen,” he said.

David Scott, director of the Roswell Park Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said monitoring construction sites from the street is an inadequate way to gauge what is really happening when it comes to diversity in hiring.

“By going out and doing a visual check of the site, you’re going to miss a lot because part of that work is being done inside, too,” he said.

He said it is his job at Roswell to make sure that when it comes to contracting with minority and women-owned business, the process is a fair one, with a focus on looking at the numbers in regards to minority hires.

He noted that in some cases contracts for specific large projects have been broken up so those minority and women-owned business lacking the qualifications to take on full projects can still get a piece of the pie.

Scott said Roswell exceeds workforce diversity targets set by the state, which is 30 percent. In 2014, Scott said, it was at 37 percent for the entire operation.

Fisher expressed skepticism that Roswell is meeting its targets, either those set for diversity on its construction site or within the workforce at the hospital itself.

“Out of a total 3,200 workforce at Roswell, 300 are black and most of the blacks work cleaning bed pans, mopping floors or cooking food,” Fisher said.

Scott conceded that may have been true in the past, but said minorities have been hired in more diverse positions at Roswell over the past four years.