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Add minority workers, unions told

Five black city leaders decried disparities in organized labor as well as a work-site incident.

Black elected officials yesterday called for an increase in the number of African Americans in the city's building-trades unions and for a detailed report from District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham on an incident in which a hangman's noose was used to taunt a black worker at the Comcast tower construction site in Center City.

Accompanied by four City Council members at a City Hall news conference, State Sen. Anthony H. Williams said, "No longer can we have young men dying in record numbers because they don't have money in their pockets to provide for their families."

Standing alongside him were Council members Marian Tasco, Donna Reed Miller, Blondell Reynolds Brown and W. Wilson Goode Jr.

"No longer can we stand on the sidelines and have taxpayers - the majority of whom are people of color - pay for public-property construction and have that money go out of the city to people who don't look like us and share our values," said Williams (D., Phila.).

The senator and others assailed the recent testimony before Council by Patrick Gillespie, president of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, that he could not produce data on the racial makeup of construction unions.

"That performance by Pat Gillespie last week in Council was not acceptable by any human compassionate standard. It spoke to a tone of intolerance," Williams said.

He added, "There are too many within the building trades who don't share the values of diversity and inclusion."

Gillespie did not return calls left at union headquarters.

The news conference was held as City Council was set to approve the operating agreement involving the city, the state, and the Convention Center. That measure was amended last week to allow nonunion contractors and their employees to bid and work on the $700 million project.

Late last night, Council announced that it would let the building-trades unions work at the Convention Center in exchange for their drafting plans to increase their diversity.

Council would have to approve the diversity plans.

"The people behind me today have spent countless hours protecting the unions in the city of Philadelphia. Not one of them has been union-bashing," Williams said.

The Convention Center expansion must be done with union labor, Williams said.

But "we are not going to bend over and accept the veiled promises we did when we built the stadiums," he said.

Williams described the involvement of African Americans and women in the stadium projects as "miserable."

"We want to grow from apprenticeship to journeymen," he said.

The violent crime gripping the city is related to the lack of economic equity throughout Philadelphia, Tasco said.

"If we're not going to increase the economic viability of the entire city, we're going to continue to see violence in the city," she said. ". . . The chokehold on the city of Philadelphia by the trade unions has been on too long."

Williams also assailed the Oct. 1 incident in which a white construction worker allegedly waved a hangman's noose in the face of Paul Solomon, a black coworker.

"Maybe the noose-hanging incident is a red herring, but we expect the D.A. of this city to come forward and give a full disclosure report," Williams said. ". . . We also expect to find out why a noose was hanging at a construction site, and . . . we expect those work sites to reflect the city of Philadelphia."

Cathie Abookire, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, said, "At the request of Sen. Williams several days ago, the District Attorney's Office reviewed the incident again, and although we find this conduct reprehensible, we found again that there is insufficient evidence that a crime was committed."

Since the Oct. 1 noose incident, Solomon has struggled to find work, Tasco said.

"Where are the labor unions in support of him?" Tasco said. ". . . There is no justice here."

The noose episode was directly related to the low numbers of minorities in the construction trades, Goode said.

"There would never have been a noose incident if there was diversity on this work site," he said. "What we're faced with today is a lack of diversity."

In a related development yesterday, City Council unanimously passed Councilman Darrell L. Clarke's measure to punish the display of hate symbols, including nooses, burning crosses and swastikas. If signed into law by Mayor Street, it will increase the fine for "ethnic intimidation" from $300 to $1,900 and set a maximum 90-day jail term.