A Beacon Hill committee has endorsed a bill that aims to increase diversity on the site of state construction projects. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on State Administration and Oversight signed off on the bill last week. If it becomes law, it would prompt the state to track if projects are meeting their goals for hiring minority and women-owned businesses and local residents.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, the lead sponsor of the bill and a Jamaica Plain Democrat, said it would codify the expectation that state agencies will take into account a bidder’s capacity to subcontract and hire a diverse workforce in communities of color, as well as the bidder’s past performance in achieving that diversity, before granting them a new contract. This gives bidders an economic incentive to make a concerted effort to reach higher numbers in terms of diverse sub-contracting and hiring.
“If they can put into their bid that they are really going to work hard to reach out to minority-owned or female businesses for subcontractors, that’ll be a leg up on another bid. It gives bidders a competitive edge,” said Chang-Diaz.
Chang-Diaz said that it is important to help smaller businesses in order to provide a level playing field. Particularly in the construction field, she said, the state can have a tendency to stick with companies that it has an established relationship with. This can make it difficult for “new players” to break into the industry, she said.
Beyond providing equal access to job opportunities in communities, hiring business owners within the community has long-term implications.
“It’s not just building jobs, but it’s building wealth in our communities,” said Chang-Diaz.
The city of Boston has guidelines, known as the Boston Residents Job Policy (BRJP), which sets hiring goals for all publicly funded projects: 50 percent resident, 25 percent minority, and 10 percent female.
In a story two weeks ago , a Reporter analysis found that from 2009 to 2011, compliance with two of those three sub-groups decreased. Resident numbers decreased to 32.3 percent from 36.9 percent. Minority hiring dropped as well, decreasing to 29.9 percent from 41.4 percent. Female numbers made a small gain, increasing to 3.8 percent from 3.3 percent.
State Rep. Martin J. Walsh attributed this drop in meeting numbers to a poor economy. He said he expects the number of projects meeting target numbers to increase in the next six months.
In a statement, Chang-Diaz described how the state works at this time: “Currently, state agencies have differing practices when it comes to settling workforce participation goals, whether they set diversity subcontracting goals, and how they follow up on these goals if a contractor doesn’t meet them.”
She added that guidelines state the Commonwealth’s goal for workforce diversity on construction projects is 15.3 percent minority.
The bill (S 1568) would establish a website —created by the state and maintained by the comptroller — to make it easier to track what numbers are being used by agencies and contractors on projects, and if those goals that were made are being met.
The website would track projects in real-time, rather than post-project, in order to be utilized by job-seekers. The goal of having a website is to create a level of transparency that right now doesn’t exist, according to Chang-Diaz, who said it will increase the pressure for contractors to meet their proposed goals for projects.
Aaron Tanaka, executive director of the Boston Workers Alliance, said that while transparency is not the only thing needed to solve the hiring problems in the state, it is important.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the silver bullet but anything that increases transparency in the neighborhood and in our communities is a step forward,” said Tanaka.
The bill has strong support in both the community and in the Statehouse. City Councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley have testified in support, as well as activist Mel King and Rev. Hurmon Hamilton. Several other city and state officials, as well as community organizations, also support the bill.
Chang-Diaz predicts that the bill will go to Senate Committee on Ways and Means next, and while the timeline remains unclear, she is optimistic about it reaching Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.
“It’s anyone’s guess,” said Chang-Diaz, “but it’s also up to our coalition of partners that care about this bill to help get it passed.”