Mayor-elect Michael Nutter yesterday pledged an aggressive effort to bring racial diversity to the city's construction industry, vowing to end "economic apartheid" on its job sites.
The remark brought a sharp rebuke from building-trades leader Pat Gillespie, who said construction unions have worked for years to bring more diversity to their ranks.
"That's so goddam offensive," Gillespie said of Nutter's remarks. "People are practicing racial politics. It makes me wonder what their motives are."
Nutter joined other black elected officials in a news conference yesterday to present a "statement of principles" for diversity and inclusion in the construction industry.
Nutter's comments seemed directed at a variety of players in construction and real-estate development, rather than solely the unions. But Gillespie said that what he heard from Nutter in radio reports troubled him.
Diversity goals have recently been set for the $700 million Pennsylvania Convention Center expansion, but Nutter and the others said they want more minority workers and contractors on privately funded projects as well.
"We're going to do our jobs and make sure that this city has economic opportunity, and people are either going to get with the new program or they're not going to participate," Nutter said.
He said these new expectations would apply "whether you're a private concern, a public concern, a quasi-agency or an institution of higher education or anything else.
"The city of Philadelphia will no longer accept an environment of economic apartheid anymore," Nutter concluded.
The black elected officials said they hoped to unveil a more specific plan to ensure diversity early next year.
Gillespie recently sparred with some City Council members over diversity in the building-trades unions, prompting Council to insert a provision in Convention Center legislation inviting non-union contractors onto the project.
That language was removed last week in a compromise that also required unions to submit diversity plans, but Gillespie said yesterday that he was bothered by Nutter's actions then and his comments about apartheid yesterday.
"Hearing him say that, on top of hearing him championing the nonunion cause, I just have suspicion about his stewardship of the city," Gillespie said.
Council is scheduled to give final approval today to the Convention Center legislation, which approves the expansion project provided that construction unions reveal the racial composition of their membership and provide long-term diversity plans.
It's not clear exactly when that information must be provided, but the legislation prohibits unions from participating in the expansion unless their diversity plans are approved by Council.