A New Co-opt on the West Side


Al Sharpton, part of the contingent of African-American Democrats crossing party lines in noisy support of the New York Jets’ West Side stadium proposal, says he’s doing so because it will mean more jobs for minorities in the building industry. Not because a 1.7 billion dollar project means more work to go around, he told reporters last week, but because a plan of action the Jets paid to have drawn up “guarantees jobs and guarantees inclusiveness.”

Maybe the reverend was actually referring to the work the Jets have promised consultants, because nowhere in the 21-page “historic agreement to ensure the participation of the minority and women-owned business community” is there anything resembling an enforceable commitment to hire blacks or anyone else to build any part of the proposed stadium.

Activists see right through the Jets’ plan.

“Using black folks to gain support for this—in light of the rampant discrimination in the industry—that is politically indecent,” ” says veteran labor leader Jim Haughton. “It’s criminal.”

Brainchild of a group of consulting firms led by the Regional Alliance for Small Contractors, the plan outlining the “New York Jets Minority/Women’s Business Enterprise Participation and Labor Force Program” is billed as the product of six months’ discussion with a task force of minority and industry leaders. Sounds wholesome enough. Still, if you haven’t read it yet, don’t count on getting a copy. Jets spokesman Larry Blackmon wouldn’t give one to the Voice because it is “sensitive . . . something we have worked very hard on.”

But the Voice obtained a copy. In a nutshell, the document contains no specific promises. Instead, it’s a questionable analysis of problems minority contractors face when competing for contracts. According to the task force, most of their troubles can be linked to ill-preparedness and lack of proper state certification. Conveniently, the task force chose Regional Alliance to be the funnel for all the coursework and tutorials the minority builders need. Regional Alliance, having already been paid $500,000 to organize the task force—is thus guaranteed to have more money coming in.

The document calls for people to get “one-on-one coaching,” courtesy of the Loaned Executive Program—which is also administered by Regional Alliance. A multitude of assistance in record keeping, computers, finances and project management will be funneled through Regional Alliance and one of its former subcontractors.

Do minority builders really need this remedial coursework? A city council study issued three months ago of the period from 1997 to 2002 indicates otherwise. Black-owned firms that meet all the criteria for bonding, insurance and technical certifications represented 16 percent of the labor pool but received only 1.7 percent of the city’s contracts. Firms headed by white males made up only 43 percent of certified builders, yet they won 71 percent of the city’s work.

Why are minorities routinely passed over for work? Haughton, director of a non-profit devoted to addressing racism in the building industry, says, “Armies of highly skilled, motivated, black carpenters, steam fitters, engineers face deep-seated racism, cronyism, nepotism, sexism in and out of the unions. We’ve always been on the periphery of the industry, and it’s worse now than it’s ever been.”

Since work-ready minorities aren’t being hired now, what Haughton considers disingenuous attempts at increasing their numbers won’t solve anything. To Haughton, the Jets/Regional Alliance program sounds a lot like the pre-apprenticeship training sponsored by the construction unions.

“It’s a joke. It’s an insult,” says Haughton, adding that he’s been working 40 years on these issues. “The training is a device to distract from the real issue. And the ones that go through that, they don’t even get a job. It’s for people who don’t know how the industry works. I know black women who went through and can’t get work. But a white woman, someone’s sister, will have her ‘apprenticeship’ on the job at full union pay.”

For minority builders with solid backgrounds, the Jets/Regional Alliance program does promise to help them get bonding and direct them to the loan funds the Jets have promised to lubricate. Still, activists like Haughton are skeptical. “Regional Alliance has been around for a long time,” he says. “They’re nothing new. They’re on the inside. There’s a lot pretension and formalities, but for me, a guy on the ground, none of these programs has ever done anything.”

Except attract politicians. The task force advisory committee includes Democratic congressman Gregory Meeks, City Councilman Hiram Monserrate, and an assortment of minority business leaders and clergy. Interestingly, Louis Coletti, president of the powerful Building Trades Employers Commission, is on the committee as well. To labor activists like Haughton, Coletti epitomizes New York’s construction establishment.

Perpetual outsider councilman Charles Barron won’t say that his fellow Democrats were bought off, but he thinks the Jets’ campaign is a strategy to get African-American support before the matter comes before the minority-dominated City Council.

“I don’t know who got what, but the bottom line is there are no specific goals or numbers. The whole thing is absurd.” he tells the Voice. “If our community just buys into the rhetoric about more jobs, it’s very hard for the council to oppose or even negotiate because people will say: Why aren’t you in favor of more jobs for us?”