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Bertha Lewis Headshot

City Council Must Not Undermine Minority Opportunities

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A new City Council proposal meant to solidify organized labor's role in local development projects will effectively bar minority- and women-owned businesses from competing for contracts and create new barriers to employment for many residents. The Council must reject this flawed bill out of hand or overhaul it completely.

The Council's legislation, known as Intro 1169, would require all contractors and subcontractors working on projects that meet the low threshold of $1 million in City assistance to provide apprenticeship programs for their employees and comply with onerous disclosure rules.

While the intention is good, these measures would ultimately raise costs for minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) and, as a result, significantly lower their chances of success in competitive bidding processes.

The expense and difficulty of setting up a New York State-approved apprenticeship program is substantial. It generally takes mountains of paperwork and one to two years to establish a program -- plus another three years before apprentices are even eligible to work on City projects.

MWBEs are typically smaller companies already under considerable financial constraints and are unable to devote the time and resources necessary to create approved apprenticeship programs. And because unions are generally the only entities with the existing capacity to offer apprenticeship programs, the bill would in essence bar MWBEs from participating in City-sponsored projects.

The new disclosure requirements under Intro 1169 are equally troubling. Contractors and subcontractors would have to provide the names of any employees who have any type of local, state or federal conviction within the last 10 years. This would be a major disincentive for contractors participating in work re-entry programs and make it less likely that employers will offer jobs to workers with prior convictions who are struggling to rejoin the workforce.

And while the Council went out of its way to add numerous burdensome disclosure requirements, the legislation is silent on any requirement for large contractors to disclose their percentage of MWBE workforce. Absent such a provision, the bill will simply perpetuate an unacceptable status quo.

In a City where "minorities" are now the majority, it is unconscionable that MWBEs still only receive 3.9 percent of the value of the City's contracts. Adding insult to injury, the unemployment rate in minority communities is nearly double that of white communities. It's clear we need to do more to make jobs and contracts available to the people who need them most.

Instead of creating new rules that diminish the economic prospects of minority communities, the Council should focus on legislation that promotes local participation in projects. Given New York's uniquely diverse makeup, this focus on local participation will inevitably lead to more opportunities for MWBE firms.

Developers, property owners and general contractors should be required to ensure that more of the workers performing each phase of the design, construction, operation and maintenance of buildings are residents of the local Community District where the project is located.

In so doing, the Council will help address the high rates of unemployment in minority communities while ensuring that local residents are able to see benefits from City-funded projects in their neighborhoods.

The City Council has for years worked to promote the City's MWBEs, but Intro 1169 would undermine those efforts. The Council should reject this legislation and focus on policies that actually benefit our City's minority communities.