With SolarCity executives expected to get the keys to the solar panel factory Friday, officials should celebrate with a group photo of all of the workers who helped build it.
As jobs on another major project come and go, that might be the only way to resolve the discrepancy between reports that show minorities got their fair share of the work and activists who see no evidence that African-Americans – the city’s largest minority bloc, and one desperately in need of jobs – got many of the paychecks.
Although you wouldn’t know it from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s praise of the project last week, the issue of jobs remains contentious here even after the massive Buffalo schools project, work on the Medical Campus and Canalside, and now the solar panel plant.
The stats from project manager LPCiminelli show that minorities accounted for 18.75 percent of the work at SolarCity, while women had 6.45 percent, exceeding the goals of 15 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Minority businesses got 21 percent of the work, while those headed by women got 12 percent, exceeding the combined goal of 30 percent. But the goals – themselves a source of controversy – don’t mean much to those who see economic devastation in large swaths of the African-American community, yet see none of their neighbors getting jobs.
“I’m sure they are” meeting the goals, said the Rev. George Nicholas of the Concerned Clergy of Western New York, which led the Moral Mondays tours of job sites to see who was working. “But it’s not African-American jobs, it’s not African-American businesses.
“Show me the people who got jobs” in the 14215, 14208 and other heavily black ZIP codes. “Don’t show me a minority from the suburbs.”
Every group deserves its fair share of jobs. But if some benefit in lieu of tapping inner-city African-Americans, as critics say, this region has a serious problem, as the black poverty, unemployment and crime rates make clear.
Purposely or not, there is no way to answer that question. An LPCiminelli spokesman, while understanding the concern, said that the state Department of Labor establishes the reporting format that lumps all minorities together and that contractors can’t even ask about race.
Meanwhile, pastors and activists have long said they see no blacks working and hear of none when they query their congregations or organizations, despite what the reports show. “It shouldn’t be so difficult to find this information out,” Nicholas said, even as the coalition that staged protests has gone dormant, lessening public pressure. The clergy can only do so much.
Nicholas said they want an “emergency task force” to solve the problem, noting that folks are smart enough to build high-tech plants, “but we aren’t smart enough to figure out how to get an unemployed black person living on the East Side of Buffalo a job?”
“There are people in this town, when they want certain things to happen, they happen,” he said, but this issue is not a priority for them.
Until it becomes their priority – and until the state changes how it counts minority workers – we’re doomed to keep having this argument. And a community that desperately needs jobs is doomed to keep missing out.