NY Attorney General goes after Construction Discrimination

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Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford

After three decades of fighting against discrimination amongst construction unions, I finally see a shining example of due diligence. Most elected officials don’t give much attention to leveling the field for minority and female contractors. Start calling out the fraudulent general contractors who will do anything to try and game projects where the owners have good intentions by setting targets or goals for minority and female subcontractors and they just ignore you. Some depressing days would cause me to say to myself “Am I the only one who sees this?”

But finally it appears that leaders are catching on to this expensive and illegal activity that decimates our workforce and blocks the development of minority entrepreneurs. Most of the discrimination is targeted towards Blacks. The people of Rochester, New York have received a blessing. That blessing is New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. After hearing complaints about the fraud and fronting on a multi – renovation school system project, the Attorney General began to look at this $325 million 13 schools project funded by the State of New York.

He organized a formal investigation and on October 14, 2016 he announced his conclusions. There were five construction firms guilty of discrimination against minority and female firm who sought subcontracting tasks. The firms have agreed to pay $825,000 in fines after they were “cold busted.” A whistleblower stepped in and exposed what was happening and the firms – Concord Electric Corporation, Manning Squires Hennig, Hewitt Young Electric, Michael A. Ferrauilo Plumbing & Heating Inc. and Mark Cerrone Inc. blamed it all on sloppy paper work and unforeseen mix-ups.

According to the Attorney General, “All five firms lied about sub-contracting with minority and women owned businesses when in reality, they got materials and labor elsewhere. In many cases, the firms gave MWOBs (minority women owned businesses) kickbacks in exchange for falsifying documents.” I certainly hope he has no mercy on the minority culprits who went along with these games.

The program was well intended. Not only will they correct the above but will also start similar programs. Reviewing what went wrong in Rochester, the Syracuse school systems will now begin on their renovation and have pledged to do it right. The mayor of Syracuse has pledged decent minority and female participation and has hired a consultant to monitor the progress and assure the numbers and percentages are real and correct. After that comes Buffalo. These and other New York cities understand the seriousness of the Attorney General.

The fines that will be collected by Rochester will go into the needed funding for more ongoing city projects. Syracuse is raising a $400,000 fund to assist minority and female contractors who are being paid in a very slow process. This is called “factoring.” Slow pay is a major issue for small businesses. Another pledge by the Syracuse mayor is that most of the workers will be Syracuse citizens – no carpetbagging which construction unions are noted for. It is a new day coming for the Black contractors of upstate New York and that is a very, very good thing.

As our new friend, Attorney General Schneiderman laments, “Women and minority owned businesses have historically been shut out of government contracts for all the wrong reasons. That’s why our state, and localities, implement reasonable diversity standards to level the playing field. These contractors engaged in flagrant schemes that flouted the diversity rules they were required to meet, and in the process, denied minority and women owned businesses a fair shot at winning valuable sub-contracts. My office will continue to aggressively enforce the law against contractors who game the system.” Look out! There is a new “sheriff” in town.

All attorney generals, prosecutors and mayors should emulate what is happening in New York. Most urban areas outside of the South are menaced with vile and racist contractors who refuse diversity and will plague minorities and females to satisfy their greed. Wherever there is high union activity in construction there will be games played. Sign them to firm diversity standards. I am not talking “goals” but requirements. Monitor them and accept no excuses.

Here is some homework. What is the status of construction diversity in your community? All you have to do is ask and verify. If it is not going right, then get an investigation to see where the problem is.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org

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