YOUNGSTOWN SCHOOLS Little progress in minority hiring irks group

A union leader says he's no longer sure how realistic the hiring goals are.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Local building trades unions have made little progress in helping meet minority and female hiring goals for the city schools $173 million building project, says a community organization monitoring the project.
"We're not happy," said the Rev. Michael Harrison, president of the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods.
But the head of the local trades unions says the unions are not to blame.
"We just feel frustration that they're singling us out ... and they don't seem to be addressing the bigger issues," said Carl McConnell, president of the Western Reserve Building & amp; Construction Trades Council.
Reporting on efforts: ACTION, a coalition of urban and suburban church congregations addressing various economic and social problems, was meeting this afternoon to report on efforts to make sure 20 percent of the workers on the facilities project will be minorities and 20 percent will be women.
The hiring goals were set before school district voters approved a bond levy in November 2000 to help fund a project that includes six new schools. Construction begins this fall.
Since the election, the Rev. Mr. Harrison said there has been some progress in striving for the hiring goals, "but it's minuscule."
Mr. Harrison said he thinks it's still possible to meet the goals and he said the city school board remains firmly committed.
As for the trade unions? "They have not shown us the progress we would like to see in that area," he said. "But we are not going to bash the unions."
McConnell, who represents about 6,000 union workers ranging from laborers to bricklayers, said the unions agreed to the hiring goals before the election as part of a project labor agreement that would put most of the construction jobs in the hands of union workers.
Not OK'd by state: But that agreement has not been approved by the state, meaning the unions are not guaranteed any jobs in the facilities project, he said. "And without the agreement, I'm not sure how valid or how realistic those [hiring] goals are," McConnell said.
Tim Batton, a leader of Schools 2000, said the union and community groups have been trying to get minorities and females into union apprentice programs so they would be ready for the construction jobs when they open.
"That's where it has bogged down," he said. Schools 2000 led the bond levy campaign.
McConnell said the union accepts apprentices based on the amount of construction work available; the union has 15 percent to 20 percent less work this year than last, he said.
He also said the union is responsible for accepting the best-qualified workers. It's the community's responsibility to make sure minorities and women are in that group, he said.
"We would like to say, 'Yes, we will take all comers, we will take all minority and female applicants,'" he said. "But what happens to the better-qualified, nonminority or the male that's better qualified? Do we risk reverse discrimination? I think we do."

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