Forum brings minorities closer to opportunities

Sandra Larson | 5/30/2012, 7:37 a.m.
Sandra Larson ...
local11b.jpg Sandra Larson

“This is the right thing to do,” he continued. “We all agree we want crime to decrease, and poverty to decrease. It decreases when we create opportunity — by inviting people who haven’t been invited before to the table.”

Current MMCA President Jesse Jeter said the purpose of the forum was to help contractors meet with the large construction firms who may need their services, ideally well in advance of that need.

“We want to get them engaged early. Small firms need to know in advance to be properly prepared,” he said.

When projects are already out of the gate, the forums can still help build relationships for the future, he explained.

Rochelle Payne, co-owner of a union painting and labor contracting company, said she found the forum useful.

“Networking with general contractors gives you an advantage,” she said after the event. “Once they meet with you, they know you’re really trying to seek out a position, you’re not just an average subcontractor.”

Others had mixed reactions, mainly about the reality of getting work.

“All these projects sound good — if we could just get the work on them,” said Calvin Brandford, owner of CHP Excavating. He said there is insufficient enforcement of the city’s workforce requirements.

Ironworker Edward Jordan, owner of A+ Welding and Ironworks, was more blunt. “They’re all full of garbage,” he said of construction managers who pledge to utilize minority workers and businesses. But he put some of the blame on inadequate monitoring and enforcement.

“The issue really isn’t with the general contractors. It’s with the city,” he said. “The city has to put their foot down [when they’re not meeting the numbers] and tell them, ‘We’re not giving you any more contracts.’ The city needs to make sure the contractors are doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley, keynote speaker for the event, has worked to improve transparency in monitoring the Boston Resident Jobs Policy. She co-sponsored an ordinance to make worker hiring numbers visible to all in an online database. (The database can be viewed by searching for “compliance” on the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA)’s website, bostonredevelopmentauthority.org.)

She is now focusing on small business enterprises. She is co-sponsor of a June 5 hearing with Greater Boston Interfaith Organization on the bidding and payment processes for city-funded contracts. The aim of the hearing, to be held at Roxbury Presbyterian Church, is to help ensure fair access to opportunities on city projects, and reliable and prompt contractor payments.

The hearing is spurred in part by a 2010 study that revealed the wealth gap between whites and African Americans has increased fourfold since 1984.

“I know we can’t fix the wealth gap by getting one job for one person at a time,” Pressley told the contractors. “We have to support small businesses, and employers who create jobs for many people.”