Matt Rocheleau’s recent Boston Globe article Boston’s Builders in Boston missing diversity targets for jobs (08/28/15) raises the important and often overlooked issue of the lack of access to construction jobs for local residents and women in Boston. Residents and women in the trades are met with numerous excuses for not getting work: When the construction economy is booming they are told something similar to what National Development spokeswoman Kathy McMahon shares in Rocheleau’s piece, that “with so much construction happening in the city right now, it is often difficult for subcontractors to supply labor that fully meets the established goals.” However, when the industry is slow, they are given the excuse that with so few jobs available contractors have to use their “core crews,” which usually always lack residents and women. Residents and women in the trades just can’t seem to win.
The current bar being set for residents and women on the Dearborn 6-12 STEM Academy construction project is too low.
At a recent Dearborn 6-12 STEM Academy design & construction meeting, the City of Boston introduced Gilbane Building Company as the general contractor for its new state of the art STEM academy located in Roxbury. During their presentation, the construction team made a comment that should have the communities of Boston cringing and demanding more; they stated that the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building’s (the very building that the meeting was being taken place in) total construction workforce hours for residents, minorities and women was “the bar that we are setting for this project.” While the Bolling Building surpassed the goal for minorities, it fell a far cry from a bar that should be set for the hiring of residents and women. The final workforce on the Bolling project had a workforce made up of only 41% residents 6% women. That means that the benchmark being set by the construction team is 9% below the city’s goal for residents (50%) and 4% below the goal for women (10%). We should do better and can do better.
Are there any best construction projects that have done better?
The Quincy Choice Neighborhoods Projects lead by Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), Project R.I.G.H.T., Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation and the Quincy/Geneva Housing Corporation had a workforce of 56% Boston Residents. The Kroc Center, Boston, lead by DSNI had a workforce of 45% Boston Residents. Both projects finished with a workforce of 8% women, below the targets but moving in the right direction. Case studies written on both projects found here and here provide best practices for creating construction jobs for residents and women and can help the Dearborn team meet the city’s 50% residency goal and 10% goal for women.
How do we increase construction jobs for residents and women on the Dearborn project?
Four steps can be taken right away that can increase the amount of construction hours for residents and women on the Dearborn project: 1. The “bar being set” by the construction team should at least meet the city’s hiring goals of 50% Boston residents and 10% women. 2. The Dearborn construction team should work with groups with proven track records and best practices for creating construction jobs for residents and women. 3. The construction team should only do business with contractors that have proven track records of hiring residents and women at high levels. 4. An access & opportunity (A&O) committee should be established to provide community input and oversight over the project.
According to the city’s Dearborn team, the new Dearborn 6-12 STEM Academy will be the first of its kind in the nation. Let’s not stop there. Let’s make it another first too; let’s make it Boston’s first construction project of its size in recent memory or perhaps history, to meet and hopefully exceed the 50% goal for residents and the 10% goal for women.
Travis Watson is a senior organizer & communications manager at Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. He was the lead organizer on the construction of the Ray & Joan Kroc Center, Boston as well as the Quincy Heights Choice Neighborhoods Projects. Case studies documenting both projects can be found at dsni.org/for-researchers. He has been with DSNI since 2007