Deciding Who Shares Wealth In City Building

Posted: March 16, 1986

In the summer of 1983, when Wilson Goode was campaigning to become mayor of Philadelphia, he conducted a series of meetings with a group of black and female construction workers.

The workers were seeking the candidate's support for a strong affirmative-action hiring program similar to one implemented in Boston in 1983. That plan set numerical hiring goals for Boston city residents and for minorities and women on all city-funded construction projects. (It later was expanded to cover downtown development projects that are privately financed as well.)

According to members of the trade-union group, Goode pledged his support. ''He was enthusiastic at that time," recalled John Dent, a black operating engineer who repeatedly met with the mayor. "He was confident that he could do about anything if he was elected mayor."

Now, more than two years into Goode's four-year term, the trade-union workers are still waiting for action.

In June, City Council Bill 649, a measure modeled on the Boston plan, was introduced by Councilman David Cohen - without the mayor's support. It has sat in Council's Rules Committee without action since a lengthy public hearing in October.

Ten days ago, Councilman John F. Street introduced Bill 850, an alternative measure - also without the mayor's support. That bill has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing.

Goode has not endorsed either Cohen's or Street's proposal. He has declined to discuss his views on the issue in detail, though his press secretary has said the mayor opposes a provision of Cohen's measure establishing a goal that a percentage of city residents be hired for city-funded construction work. Street's bill has no such residency goals.

Cohen's bill had been the only one under consideration for several months. Now, with another bill to be debated, the two measures are competing for support.

As one Council member put it recently "either those two guys get together and work out some kind of compromise" or the establishment of hiring goals in Philadelphia will be delayed "for a very long time."


During the last few months, a growing number of labor, religious and community representatives have held strategy sessions and pep rally-type demonstrations in support of Cohen's bill. About 10 days ago, the group, calling itself the Bill 649 Coalition, held a "March for Jobs" to press Council to move on the measure, even though it faces the possibility of rejection by Goode.

Three city agencies whose members are appointed by the mayor - the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, the Mayor's Commission on Sexual Minorities and the Mayor's Commission for Women - have voiced support for Cohen's bill. But Goode said in January and again last month that he would not sign the hiring goals measure, even if Council approved it.

He said late last month that his primary problem with the bill was the city residency goal. City Hall sources say the mayor believes residency goals may be unconstitutional and impossible to achieve because there are not enough trained city residents in the building trades unions, which supply workers to the vast majority of city construction projects.

However, the residency goals being proposed here are identical to those in Boston, which were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983. Trade unionists in that Massachusetts city had originally fought the goals, but they are now cooperating with Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, a white, former anti- busing activist with deep union roots.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and unions with regional memberships have opposed Cohen's bill, especially because of its residency goal.

Here is a breakdown of the key differences between Cohen's and Street's proposals.

* Goals. Cohen's calls on contractors to fill 45 percent of the jobs with city residents, 25 percent with minorities and 5 percent with women. Over a four-year period starting this year, those figures would be increased. By 1989, the percentages would be 50 percent, 35 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Street's bill would have contractors face no residency requirements, but calls on them to fill 25 percent of their jobs with minorities and 4 percent with women in 1987, the first year of implementation. Like the Cohen bill, the percentages for minorities would increase over four years to 35 percent; but the female percentage would reach only 7.

* Financial threshold. Cohen's proposal covers city-funded construction contracts worth $1 million or more as well as subcontracts on those projects worth $25,000 or more. Street's bill covers city-funded construction projects worth $500,000 or more as well as subcontracts of $25,000 or more.

* Enforcement. Street's bill would give contractors the leeway of a "good- faith" effort. Before the commission took punitive action, the contractor could attempt to negotiate an agreement.

Cohen's bill would require compliance and authorize the city Human Relations Commission to stop payments on a project on which goals were not met.

Cohen's proposal terms the percentages goals, but opponents argue that the percentages are actually requirements because, under the bill, the city could stop payments on the project if a local contractor did not meet the figures or if city officials believed that the contractor had not made a good- faith effort to meet them.

Cohen said his bill was "the only thing on the horizon that offers poor Philadelphians . . . a job in the very near future as a result of the enormous amount of construction the city is now experiencing."

Street argues that his measure is much more reasonable and legally sound.

In an interview before he introduced his bill, Street said he feared that if Council were not careful "to narrow the scope of the bill" to avoid legal challenges, the legislation might be tied up in court battles for years before anyone would benefit.

Cohen's bill got its most significant boost in months last month when Councilman Lucien E. Blackwell, an official of the longshoremen's union, came out publicly for it and called for Council action as soon as possible.

The bill had had the public support of six of Council's 17 members, with only nine votes needed for approval. Supporters had targeted Blackwell, Street and Council President Joseph E. Coleman as key to the measure's success. One union official, Henry Nicholas of Hospital Workers Union Local 1199-C, argued at a public breakfast meeting in January that the three had been "out to lunch" on the issue because they had not taken a public position.

Ten days ago, the coalition rally prompted Coleman to make his first public statements about the controversial bill. He refused specifically to say that he supports it, instead saying, "We know when to move. We know when we can get votes. We know when the time is ready."

In introducing his bill, Cohen argued that the federal government's so- called Philadelphia Plan was a failure. That plan, started in 1969, mandated affirmative-action hiring goals for construction firms holding federal contracts here and became a model for similar plans across the country.

Despite the Philadelphia Plan, members of minority groups, who constitute about 40 percent of the city's population, are getting less than 10 percent of the hours worked in most of the skilled construction trades here, according to Labor Department statistics.

Philadelphia has an estimated $3 billion worth of construction projects either under way or planned in the immediate future in Philadelphia. Among those projects are the proposed $455 million Center City convention center, the proposed $165 million criminal-justice complex, the new Edison High School and a host of private developments that could use some public funds.

The term "city funds" is defined broadly in Cohen's legislation to include money the city controls that comes from federal or state grants or quasi-governmental authorities such as the city Redevelopment Authority.

That's another point on which Street and Cohen, both lawyers, disagree.

Cohen says projects such as the convention center would be included

because of the deliberately loose definition. Street argues that the center would not be included because, as a project that is expected to be controlled by a state-created authority, local law would not apply.

(During the continuing debate over funding for the convention center, Republican leaders in the state legislature have also made the argument that an authority would not be bound by state law.)

An analysis by a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia has concluded that, had Cohen's measure been in effect in 1984, it would have covered 29 of the 418 city-funded construction contracts, for a total share of $78 million - or 56 percent - of the $132 million in contracts let by the city.

Opponents of Cohen's bill see the measure as misdirected and fraught with problems.

"Some off-the-wall group drafted this thing," said Patrick Gillespie, business manager of the city's powerful building trades council. He said the measure is "blatantly anti-union" and said it would force union contractors to ignore contract provisions requiring them to hire veteran workers on layoff before they employ newly trained workers.

Councilwoman Patricia A. Hughes and Councilman Francis X. Rafferty agree. While they have no opposition to minorities and women getting ahead in the construction field, they said, such progress should not be accompanied by ''reverse discrimination" against white male construction workers.

Benjamin B. Dyess, executive director of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., which represents nonunion contractors in the Philadelphia area, called Cohen's proposal "unproductive."

"I'm not sure where those people (city residents, minorities and women) would come from," said Dyess, echoing a concern sources say Goode has expressed privately.

G. Fred DiBona Jr., president of the Chamber of Commerce, which represents city and suburban businesses, is highly critical of Cohen's residency provision. Such a goal would create "a wall" around the city and undermine the business community's efforts to forge a regional approach to economic development, DiBona warned.

Councilman W. Thacher Longstreth, a former president of the chamber, took DiBona's argument a step further. He said that the entire bill was offensive

because "I really don't like quotas," and that he held particular disdain for the city residency provision. If enacted, he said, it would lead suburban counties to "seek similar revenge."

Nobody knows how many of the more than 60,000 members of Philadelphia area building-trades unions live in the city.

But Ernest Jones, executive director of the Philadelphia Urban Coalition, a community group that is monitoring several local construction projects, said spot checks of license plates at the sites indicated that South Jersey and Delaware residents are getting a large number of the city construction jobs

"What we have found is that, on a given project, almost 50 percent of the people live outside Philadelphia," he said. "This represents a drain on the resources of the city. You would go a long way to establishing the economic vitality of the city if inner-city residents can get well-paying city construction jobs."

Councilwoman Joan L. Krajewski, majority leader of the Democratic caucus, said she backs neither Street's nor Cohen's measure.

She cites the Minority Business Enterprise Council (MBEC) requirements - which mandate that black- and female-headed companies receive a total of 25 percent of city contracts - as an example why no more goals of any kind should be established.

Krajewski said she believed that city services have been backlogged as officials try to find minority contractors to provide various city-contracted services to meet the requirements. She also believes that white contractors have been unfairly bypassed because of the law.

"If it's going to be the same bureaucracy, I don't want it," Krajewski said, referring to both the Cohen and Street bills.

So even if Cohen and Street were to reach a compromise, the next difficult step would be to convince a majority of Council members - and the mayor - that the proposal is workable, reasonable and fair.

If there are to be any goals established, Krajewski said, "it's got to be done on a fair basis, fair to all."

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