City Council gave its initial approval to the proposed $700 million expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center yesterday, but not before the construction trade unions took a major thumping over their record of hiring minorities and women.
The legislation was held over from a hearing earlier in the week because Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. wanted the hiring and contracting goals delineated by race.
The negotiated deal calls for a workforce goal, defined in terms of hours worked, of 25 percent African-American, 10 percent Hispanic-American, 5 percent Asian-American and 10 percent women.
The general contractor is required to make "best and good-faith efforts" to insure that half the workers are from Philadelphia.
The goal for contractors is slightly different: 20 percent of all contract dollars should go to African-American-owned businesses, 10 percent Hispanic-American and 5 percent Asian-American. In all cases, the goals are not quotas but rather "aspirational goals."
Once the percentages were settled, much of the hearing became an opportunity to slam the construction unions for their past unwillingness to disclose data on the number of minorities and women in the building trades.
Pat Gillespie, who heads the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, touted the many programs that have brought minorities into apprentice programs.
But when asked to provide a demographic breakdown on the unions' memberships, he said, "I don't know who has the data or whether it exists."
Indeed, he said he didn't know how many members were in the 42 unions in the council, though he noted that there are 22 business agents who are minorities.
Councilwoman Marian Tasco pointed out that one had only to walk past a construction site or look at the New Jersey tags on construction workers' cars to wonder about whether minorities and Philadelphians are being short-changed on good construction jobs.
Councilman Frank DiCicco, who in the past has been politically targeted by the construction unions, initially urged his colleagues to hold the convention center bill until Gillespie produced data.
That prompted Thomas Muldoon, president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, to warn that if the bill was delayed until next year, it could cost the center bookings in early 2011 and unhinge plans for new hotels in the city.
After a break, Gillespie came back with no membership data, prompting DiCicco to offer an amendment that allows non-union employers to bid on contracts. Council quickly added the new language to the bill.
Albert Mezzaroba, Convention Center Authority president, said the DiCicco amendment will enable non-union contractors to use their existing non-union staff on subcontracts at the expansion site.