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Can do, unions say of hiring minorities

"The goals are obtainable," said a building-trades official of City Council's mandate to diversify.

The leader of Philadelphia's construction unions signaled yesterday that they would accept City Council's strict goals for including minorities and women in building the $700 million Convention Center expansion.

"The goals are obtainable," said Patrick C. Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. "We don't have a problem with those aspirational goals."

Gillespie spoke the day after City Council approved legislation setting out minority-hiring goals for the construction project, which has been called crucial to Center City development. Council earlier approved an explosive amendment that would have allowed nonunion labor on the project, but dropped it after intense negotiations and interventions by leaders including Mayor Street.

Gillespie said he saw "nothing problematic" in the legislation and added that labor leaders were pleased Council members "came to their senses" on the nonunion amendment. It had been offered by Councilman Frank DiCicco and approved during a Nov. 6 Council session after Gillespie could not produce statistics on minority and female union membership.

The new language mandates that the 17 construction unions on the project adopt the city's minority-hiring goals. Those call for the construction workforce to include 25 percent African Americans, 10 percent Hispanics, 5 percent Asians and 10 percent women.

The legislation requires Council approval of the unions' plans to bring more minorities and women into their ranks. The unions also must disclose the current demographics of their membership.

Gillespie said he hoped to know more about what the unions will be required to do after a meeting on Monday called by Gov. Rendell. Rendell said in a letter to city, state and Convention Center Authority officials this week that until the three bodies approve and sign the construction-management agreement, he won't release funds to start construction.

Tom Muldoon, president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, has said any delay in construction would jeopardize all convention business booked for 2011, when the expansion is scheduled for completion.

The requirement to provide demographic data could be a challenge for some unions because of where and how their members work and a lack of computerized recordkeeping, labor experts said.

Many unions, over the years, have consolidated locals to increase their strength. It's not uncommon for one local's territory to cross several counties, or even states, making it difficult to gather complete and accurate data on members.

Also, work sites often change, as do workers on one site. For example, a union carpenter who has steady work from one contractor could be working in Philadelphia one week and sent to a suburban project the next.

"Do you count someone who lives in Philadelphia, or someone who works in Philadelphia?" said Patrick Eiding, head of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO.

One number that is more available and more local is the number of apprentices who go through jointly sponsored union and contractor training programs. The U.S. Labor Department requires annual demographic reports.

The unions must keep statistics about applicants, current enrollees and graduates, said Michael Schurr, a training coordinator for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Schurr also heads a regional group of union training coordinators.