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Leaders rally for diversity of labor

Phila. rejects "economic apartheid," Nutter said. Council is to vote today on union membership rules.

In the run-up to today's City Council vote on the Convention Center expansion, some of the city's high-profile African American leaders gathered at a union hall yesterday to serve notice to the construction trades:

Get diverse or get out.

"The City of Philadelphia will no longer accept an environment of economic apartheid," Mayor-elect Michael Nutter told the gathering of politicians and union members at Laborers International Union of North America Local 332's hall, just off North Broad Street.

Today City Council is expected to approve an ordinance that will require unions to detail the racial and gender makeup of their membership and to develop a diversity plan to increase the number of women and minorities in their unions.

The unions and union contractors must also commit to giving women and minority union members 50 percent of the work hours on the site.

If City Council doesn't like each union's plan, that union will not be permitted to sign a project labor agreement that will govern the work on the $700 million expansion project.

Yesterday's news conference was all about grand goals of inclusion, equal opportunity and participation. But nothing specific was said about how this would be carried out and enforced.

Nutter said a monitoring mechanism would be put in place with fines and penalties. "It comes down to data, information and a trust factor about sharing," he said in an interview after the news conference.

City Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., who has advocated increased minority participation, said later that the unions would need to work fast to develop their plans. Construction can't start on the center until the project labor agreement is in place - and City Council needs to approve the diversity plans before unions can sign the agreement.

Goode said Council might need to convene a special session during its winter recess to consider the unions' diversity plans.

Even before the scheduled vote, Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller issued a statement announcing that she would hold a news conference today to discuss the successful passage of the ordinance.

Reed Miller was among the political leaders who attended yesterday's news conference convened by State Sen. Anthony H. Williams.

The controversy over minority hiring and contracting goals at the Convention Center had pitted two traditional allies - organized labor and African Americans - against each other. For a while last week, it looked as if the issue would lead to the end of union control in city public-works projects, signaling a significant weakening in labor's political clout.

But then, Mayor Street stepped in to help broker a deal that would meet both union and minority concerns.

Williams said the Laborers' union hall was chosen deliberately as the location for yesterday's conference. Local 332 is 80 percent African American, according to business agent Sam Staten Sr.

"We don't have a problem with unions in Philadelphia," said Williams, a Democrat from West Philadelphia.

Now, Williams said, it is up to unions - and contractors - to step up minority inclusion.

"This train is on the track," Williams said. "You can either get on it or else be run over by it."

For a slide show capturing the Convention Center throughout

the years, visit