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ONCE AGAIN, the Pennsylvania Convention Center has been turned into a damsel tied to the railroad tracks. But this time, it's not just the unions driving the train that could run it over.

City Council was set to vote yesterday on whether to allow nonunion labor to be hired to work on the $700 million Convention Center expansion. This plan was led by Councilman Frank DiCicco to call the building-trades unions on their inability to meet minority-participation goals on the work, a failure underscored by the refusal of the building-trades' business manager, Pat Gillespie, to talk about the racial makeup of the 42 skilled-trade unions.

In a Council hearing, he said he didn't know the racial breakdown of members. On the eve of the Council vote, Gov. Rendell stepped in and asked for time for a compromise to be hammered out.

The construction train could be headed for disaster if that compromise becomes a window-dressing deal that artificially inflates the number of minority workers at the Convention Center while ignoring the larger issue of whether or not the unions are doing everything they can to become more inclusive. And until they provide proof, the unions' protests that they're doing all they can should be ignored.

That's why the governor, the mayor and those involved in the meetings should demand that the unions provide not just numbers on the workers at the Convention Center. They should require the unions to document the total number of journeymen, apprentices, and new apprentices in their ranks. And those numbers need to include race and gender breakdown, as well as the average number of hours worked. That's the only way to get a true picture of the union's promises to become more inclusive. Montinoring those numbers is the only way to ensure they continue to take this seriously. It would be too easy to cut a deal that beefs up minority participation in the center's construction work and do nothing to solve the larger issue: minority participation on all projects, both public and private. And focusing this discussion solely on the Convention Center is threatening to give the center another black eye - just when the last few that the unions delivered have healed.

Lip service on minority participation has cut it for far too long. It's time for the governor and city leaders to make the unions truly accountable to their promises of a diversified workforce. *