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Hartford Blacks Question MDC’s Minority Hiring Practices

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — For three years the Greater Hartford African American Alliance has been picketing the Metropolitan District Commission in protest over perceived dismal hiring practice for blacks.

So on a particularly crisp Monday afternoon in early March, Alliance President Clarke King and three other members gathered outside MDC’s headquarters on Main Street in Hartford with picket signs. It was their latest attempt to bring attention to MDC’s  $2 billion Clean Water Project underway in Hartford and eight surrounding towns hooked up to the city’s sewer system. According to the state chartered agency’s website, it will spend billions to improve the area’s water quality and expand the capacity of Hartford’s aging system.

Authorized by a 2006 referendum, the project is in response to a federal Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency consent decree, and a Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection consent order to clean up the water supply by 2012. It is considered a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity that will funnel money to thousands of contractors and workers in the Greater Hartford area. And Alliance members say blacks in the city should get their equal share.

This recent gathering at MDC prompted a visit from MDC’s Diversity Committee Chairman Adam Cloud to “share the facts.”

“There is an information gap,” Cloud says after the Alliance meeting at Rajun Cajun restaurant March 13. “It’s hard to agree when the facts are missing.”

Cloud promised to forward the latest facts to The Hartford Guardian the following week, only to say one week later that there was going to be a small job fair on March 22 for 10 of 15 graduates of a training program held earlier in Promfet. The mini job fair was at the MDC’s training facility on Maxim Road. The Guardian was invited. At this gathering, three contractors were present to look at resumes.

City-based contractor Rohan Freeman interviews job applicant at MDC training facility in March

Trainees vs. Union Members

Gregory Crawford has about 10 years in construction work, unlike his counterparts at the fair; they have minimal or no construction experience. Crawford has also been through the Hartford Jobs Funnel training Program and the Promfet Laborer’s Training Academy. Based on the strength of his resume alone, Paganelli Construction Group targeted Crawford and showed up to offer him a job, which will lead to membership in the union, says Paganelli’s Project Director Michael Daddario. The other graduates just finished a training program, he says, so he has no need to interview them.

Besides, Daddario says: “I have workers who have been laid off for a long time and are waiting for job opportunities, and they are union members.”

Laborers Union  Local 230 in Hartford guidelines stress hiring based on seniority. And the Alliance sees this as a way to keep out minority workers, who are new to the process. This does little to alleviate MDC’s 75 year record in hiring minority contractors and city workers if the agency works exclusively with unions, one Alliance member says. So the Alliance is looking to meet with MDC top officials to discuss ways in creating entry points for blacks.

City and Minority Contractors

Formed in 1992, the Greater Hartford African American Alliance is a community-based organization that promotes advocacy for African Americans with regard to housing, education, and public safety. Members  say they have good reasons to carry on their three-year negotiation with the MDC on its minority and city hiring practice. About 90 percent of the work being done, or scheduled to be done, will be in Hartford. Hartford’s 150-year old sewer system must be replaced because suburban growth in Bloomfield, East Hartford, Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor. This  has caused backups and sludge in the city’s sewer system and overflows in the city’s water supply. City tax payers who help support the MDC should get access to more jobs, not just lower paying jobs but managerial positions, Alliance members say.

MDC’s independent Disparity Report supports the Alliance’s reasoning. According to the study, race and gender preferences are allowed to correct historical patterns of discrimination. But it doesn’t emphasize town specific hiring.

And that causes a conundrum for Michael Jefferson, who was hired as the Diversity Manager in 2009. Jefferson and Cloud are black. They contend that MDC serves several towns—not just Hartford. More importantly, people of color do not live in Hartford alone.

Nevertheless, King is specifically focused on Hartford because of the dismal unemployment rate for black youth and adults in the city. According to the state’s unemployment figures, the jobless rate for Hartford blacks is 16.8 percent, compared to the other towns such as Avon, where the jobless rate is 6.4 percent.  Overall, the state’s unemployment rate is 9.8 percent for nonseasonally adjusted workforce and 9.1 for seasonally adjusted workforce.

There’s more to the data as well, says Interim President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Hartford, Richard Brown.

“What [the statistics] doesn’t’ take into account is age, where those 18 to 25 have an unemployment rate  of up to 30 percent, depending on which group you talk to.”

This age group, Brown says, faces other challenges. It’s an employer’s economy, and they can afford to be more selective, which means a college graduate from the University of Connecticut can be working at Target as a cashier, a job usually reserved for high school graduates and college students.


Larger Trend

Hartford’s unemployment rate for blacks is reflective of a larger trend. The national Urban League recently released a report about the state of black America, which states that even educated blacks are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unemployed. In a CNN article Andrew Grant-Thomas, the deputy director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, says he believes the statistics for unemployed black Americans is far greater than what’s being reported. The figures don’t include people not actively seeking employment or people with higher education degrees forced to take jobs for which they’re overqualified.”The disparities are definitely huge and that number understates the size of the disparity,” he says. “You want to take that number and double it.”

Before the recession, 40 percent of black men held blue-collar jobs, which include manufacturing, transportation, construction and moving materials. Since then, one-fifth of those black workers were laid off. The crucial issue, according to another news report, is that as the economy reconfigures itself, 6 in 10 unemployed black men report that their former permanent, or less-than-full-time jobs are gone forever. The average layoff period for these men was also 33 weeks, making it harder to reenter the labor market. The National Urban League’s proposed action plan for President Obama’s administration encompasses six points: direct job creation; expansion of the Small Business Administration’s loan program; the creation of green empowerment zones; expanded hiring of housing counselors nationwide; expanded summer jobs program for youths; and the creation of urban jobs academies. Here in the Greater Hartford area, the local chapter of the Urban League will host its Diversity Job Fair at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on April 29. Brown said there will be several job opportunities from companies such as United Technologies, Aetna, and Comcast. These companies will specifically be looking for qualified people of color. Brown added that the League is in the first stages of collaborating with MDC to provide training for the Clean Water Project.

MDC’s Diversity Efforts

Jefferson says that MDC’s recent diversity effort has been impactful, given the little resources his team has to work with. The community, he says, would need to look to policy to address the larger concerns. And that’s where Cloud comes in as chair of the Diversity Committee. But the Alliance has “little faith” in his ability to get results for the community. Besides, Cloud’s March 13 visit was his first to the Alliance meeting, King says. Alliance Vice President Michelle Brown (no relations to Richard Brown) says: “I think he is sincere in his attempts, but I don’t think he’ll get the support he needs from the MDC board.”

Cloud is quick to disagree with Michelle Brown, saying MDC board members are “very sincere in putting minorities to work.”And the sincerity can be seen in the new job training program, which not only trains individuals but help them get a job, Cloud says.

So far, only one participant from the Promfet training program has been hired: Crawford. He lives in Newington and will start his new job April 12.

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