Bill seeks better jobs access for women and minority contractors

Sandra Larson | 10/25/2011, 8:46 p.m.

The state bill does not specify quotas. Instead, it mandates that Massachusetts make diverse and local hiring a stated goal. This, along with the requirement to assess contractors’ past performance, would give bidders on state projects new incentives to cultivate a diverse work force, said Chang-Diaz.

“Evaluation of past performance is so important,” she told the committee. “Time and time again, contractors have made lovely promises, but when the project is over, we see that the numbers didn’t come anywhere near what was promised. And by then it’s too late.” Without this scrutiny in place, she said, “we continue to do business with people who are lying to us.”

Longtime Boston community activist Mel King echoed the importance of the reporting requirement. He also stressed a more qualitative benefit.

“The other important aspect,” King said, “has to do with our young people believing this is something they can do. One of our issues is that our young people walk by sites and don’t see people who look like them on the job. And they don’t think this is something they could do.”

He challenged the committee members to think deeply about this.

“Which side are you on?” he asked. “Are you on the side of perpetuation of the racist, sexist denial of opportunity for folks, or on the side of what makes this country as great as we talk about it being?”

Others testifying in support of the bill included state Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry and Carlos Henriquez, Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley and Brockton City Councilor-at-Large Jass Stuart; Marvin Venay, executive director of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus; Katie Lilgren, vice chair of the Massachusetts Tradeswomen Association; Hakim Clifford of the Boston Workers Alliance; Greg Janey, construction firm owner and representative of the Massachusetts Minority Contractors Association; Roxbury community advocates Travis Watson and Dorothea Jones; Chinatown advocate Lydia Lowe; and Fred McKinney, president of the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council.

Several took pains to point out that no one is asking for a handout, just an equal chance. Chang-Diaz closed her testimony with emphasis on this theme.

“These contractors and workers just want a fair shot at competing for the work,” she said.

“It takes some intentionality to get our agencies and contractors to look up from the old résumés of the people they’ve worked with for decades,” she added, “and to look at new contenders — not new to the community, but new to these agencies. That’s what this bill is really about, giving some new people a shot.”

The Joint Committee will now examine the bill and the testimony. In a conversation after the hearing, Chang-Diaz said she was optimistic about the bill’s chances. There is no clear timeline for the next step, she said, but at the very least the Committee has to report favorably or unfavorably on the bill by March 2012.