Byrdsong: CCAC labor deal could limit Blacks

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On Feb. 2 Community College of Allegheny County Board Chair William Robinson told the New Pittsburgh Courier that “labor issues have been resolved” regarding minority participation on its K. Leroy Irvis Science Center project.

Two weeks later, however, CCAC released a Project Labor Agreement for the project that requires 90 percent of the workers on the project to be hired from union trades, essentially the same agreement that resulted in an August lawsuit by the Associated Builders and Contractors Association. Community Empowerment Association founder Rashad Byrdsong said the PLA would keep Blacks from the community from working on the project.

Byrdsong
RASHAD BYRDSONG

A Feb. 22 meeting, scheduled by CCAC to allow Black laborers and contractors to discuss working on the Science Center project, it was canceled due to a snowstorm and not rescheduled.

“You’ve got a project named for K. Leroy Irvis, the most important Black politician in the state’s history, and African-Americans from the community are not involved,” said Byrdsong. “Considering that the vast majority of minority owned companies are non-union, it is clear that few Black companies will work on this project. We need African-Americans working on this job.”

In response to the ABC lawsuit CCAC initially cancelled bid packages for the project. On Feb. 15, it reissued them, increasing the number from seven to 12. The idea, said CCAC spokesman David Hoovler, was to make the packages small enough that Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprises, which might otherwise not have the required bonding capacity, could win some of the prime contracts.

However, even if a minority firm does win on of the twelve prime contracts—general, fire protection, plumbing, HVAC, electrical, painting, casework, carpet and flooring, stone and ceramic tile work, asphalt paving, landscaping, and final cleaning—with the PLA in place, Byrdsong said, it, and any of its subcontractors, would still have to hire union employees.

“Local history shows that this scenario does not work and typically excludes Black contractors,” he said. “Even with Allegheny County’s current goals of 13 percent MBE and 2 percent WBE participation, these numbers are rarely, if ever, met legitimately and are usually fulfilled by ‘pass-through’ deals.”

Byrdsong said each package, rather than the whole project, should have a minority hiring component.

The PLA has a section noting that it does not apply to work done off-site. So, a firm contracted to provide pre-fabricated materials, for instance, could use its existing employees. The PLA also does not apply to the fabrication and installation of certain specialty equipment the science center will require, because warranties could be voided if components are installed by anyone other than the manufacturers’ personnel.

Both circumstances could, theoretically, lead to minority firms and employees performing such work.

After canceling the Feb. 22 meeting, Robinson said in an email the “issue of how can we accommodate more African-American workers on CCAC projects must be dealt with head on and truthfully,” and that “the time has come to do that.”

However, CCAC scheduled a March 1 mandatory, pre-bid meeting for all contractors wishing to bid on the packages. Anyone who wanted to be a prime contractor had to attend. Byrdsong, whose MAAT Construction trains and employs neighborhood youth on various projects, said he was not informed of the meeting, but he plans to attend anyway as a potential subcontractor.

In a separate action aimed at increasing the number of Blacks working on the Irvis project, Calvin Clinton, president of the African American Workers Union, asked Allegheny County Council to intervene on behalf of his members.

During Council’s March 1 meeting, Clinton argued his union should also have been a signatory to the PLA. He said because his membership represents proportionally more Blacks than the AFL-CIO affiliated unions, hiring his members would automatically put African-American laborers on the project.

“This is a shameful display of blatant racism and discrimination,” said Clinton. “It is contrary to the ideals, life and legacy of K. Leroy Irvis and this nation’s laws.”

Proposals for the science center bid packages will be accepted by CCAC’s purchasing department until 2 p.m. March 23 when they will be publicly opened.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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