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Protesters demand more local jobs at Ferdinand

Sandra Larson | 10/24/2012, 8:29 a.m.
Protesters march on Washington Street near the Ferdinand construction site to demand more hiring of...
Protesters march on Washington Street near the Ferdinand construction site to demand more hiring of local residents. About 800 to 1000 workers are expected to put some 400,000 work hours into the project, which will create a new BPS headquarters and ground-floor retail space. The protests were organized by Priscilla Flint (in background at far right) of the Leadership Forum. Sandra Larson

“We are trying very hard,” Brophy told them. “The minority number is good; we put a priority on it. The resident hours are woefully inadequate, and we’re pushing that. Those numbers will rise.”

But the protesters appeared unconvinced and proceeded to picket, some citing frustration with a long history of unkept promises on projects all over the city.

According to city officials, 109 workers have been on the Ferdinand site so far, mainly doing abatement, demolition and site work. Hundreds of additional workers of many types will come on to the project in the 28 remaining months. Subtrades still to be hired include plumbing, electrical, flooring, roofing, HVAC, painting, metal, fire protection and masonry.

In total, 800 to 1000 workers are expected to log some 400,000 total work hours on the project, according to a written statement prepared by PCM Deputy Director Joseph Mulligan, with input from Shawmut.

The statement listed some efforts to increase local hiring. Shawmut has established a walk-in application office near the site at 22 Warren St. Two women workers were hired on Oct. 15, according to the statement, one of whom was a walk-in applicant.

In addition, Centaur Construction, a Boston minority woman business enterprise (MWBE), has recently started on the job in a joint venture with AA Will of Stoughton. This partnership stemmed from a “subcontractor open house” Shawmut hosted to help small and large contracting companies form such relationships.

While the Boston Resident Job Policy (BRJP) addresses worker hours only, many argue hiring local minority contractors is a logical way to bring more local minority workers into the workforce.

“The businesses are the ones who create the jobs,” said Rodney Singleton, a Roxbury resident who has fought for greater minority business access on local projects such as 225 Centre St., now under way in Jackson Square. “If you haven’t engaged minority businesses, [the BRJP] is not going to work, because businesses come with their own regular employees.”

Singleton and others also pointed out that limiting hiring to union workers shuts out a lot of minorities, who traditionally have not been welcomed into unions. Some local activists are pushing for more non-union construction projects in Boston.

Frustration in the community over jobs runs deep. Construction projects can be visible and painful reminders that other people are getting the opportunities. The topic of trucks with out-of-state plates on local construction sites comes up repeatedly in community meetings and in hearings, along with statements that young people of color rarely see faces that look like theirs on local work sites.

Recently, some elected officials at the state and city level have taken up the issues of access to opportunity for minority workers and MBE/WBEs.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz has sponsored a bill, now making its way through the legislative process, that would establish incentives for companies to increase workforce diversity and local job creation on state-funded projects.

In Boston, City Councilors-at-Large Ayanna Pressley and John Connolly organized a joint hearing last June with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization to address some of the obstacles MBEs and WBEs face in getting work and getting paid promptly.