These statistics are even more dismal when viewed in the context that African Americans, Latinos and Asians make up more than 50 percent of Philadelphia's population. So, in debating whether some form of affirmative action on large, publicly funded projects is warranted, the answer, obviously, is yes.
City Council came to the same conclusion in adopting an Equal Opportunity Plan for both projects. That plan calls for the use of "best efforts" to achieve certain levels of business participation from companies owned by minorities, women and the disadvantaged in constructing these two sports venues in South Philadelphia. It also extends the "best effort" requirement to the hiring of workers, specifying a certain number of minority and female workers for the projects.
The Phillies and the Eagles have embraced the plan, and have spent considerable time and effort trying to achieve its goals. The Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, which has a long history of involvement in affirmative-action programs, was retained to monitor and report monthly on the implementation of the plan. Both projects have an oversight committee that meets monthly to review performance.
On utilizing businesses owned by minorities or women, both projects are on target to meet or exceed goals. (Recent demonstrations by the African American Chamber of Commerce focused on what it perceived as an inappropriate intercession into the process of selecting a minority subcontractor.) There are several joint ventures between minority and larger majority-owned firms, which not only increase the level of minority participation, but also, through a mentoring relationship, enhance the capabilities of the partner minority firm. This mentoring aspect is a major benefit of such programs.
Unfortunately, neither project has been as successful when it comes to hiring minority and female workers - although there are more than 100 minority and female Philadelphians who have taken and passed apprenticeship tests for entry into unions, and thousands more who would love to work at either site. More than half of the workers on the Phillies ballpark come from outside Philadelphia. There have been many meetings with contractors and union officials to address this issue, but a solution has been elusive.
With a conservative U.S. Supreme Court consistently limiting the ability of government to develop and implement policies similar to the Equal Opportunity Plan, we will ultimately have to look to other means to achieve inclusion and diversity. My hope is that those minority and female firms that currently are in a joint venture, mentoring relationship with larger, more sophisticated majority-owned firms will, at the start of the next large construction project, be in a position to compete head to head, and win against the "big guys."
If the unions, which recently complained about the decline in membership, would simply diversify their membership to reflect Philadelphia's demographics, we would not need such plans to ensure minority and female workers on major construction projects. The economic vitality of this city - with more than half its population from minority groups - demands inclusion of all its residents in major economic development projects. If neighborhood residents earned good wages, and minority and female businesses flourished, we'd see the beginning of a true economic renaissance in Philadelphia, and the desired outcomes of policies such as the Equal Opportunity Plan.
Ernest E. Jones chairs the oversight committee of the Phillies ballpark.