New policy aims to boost minority hiring in the Falls

AGREEMENT: Hiring standards raised on projects in excess of $1 million that receive city funds.

 

The Rev. JoAnne Scott and her group, the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, believe developers receiving city money ought to assemble a workforce that reflects the diversity of the city's people.

Scott said Niagara Falls took a step toward that goal on Wednesday when Mayor Paul Dyster rolled out his administration's new community benefit policy.

Scott joined Dyster as he signed an executive pronouncement mandating any construction projects supported by city funds and costing more than $1 million be subject to minority hiring goals and solicit part of the workforce through development programs focused on training people from impoverished areas.

The agreement is a collaboration between local unions, city government and NOAH, for which Scott is president. 

It was spearheaded by NOAH and began in earnest nearly two years ago when Scott's group released data indicating that African-Americans had worked only 200 of the 35,000 hours it took to construct the $43 million Niagara Falls Train Station on Main Street. 

"This required a willingness to look at uncomfortable truths in our city, including racial and economic disparities. It required courage and commitment to make today a reality which will impact our future for this community and throughout the region," Scott said Wednesday. 

Dyster said the aim of the policy is to ensure "the growth of our city is linked to the personal advancement of our local residents, regardless of color, neighborhood or station in life." 

The mayor referred to a series of active workforce development programs in the city, including NOAH and Catholic Charities youth focused training and a new one underway through $1 million in funding from the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative.

"Let me be clear," Dyster said during the ceremony, "if you are willing to work hard, go through targeted job training and show up, day-in and day-out, we will direct you to an employer that will hire you."

The policy document does not lay out overarching goals for developers. Instead, each agreement will be tailored to the scope and cost of the project, Dyster said.

The executive pronouncement he signed pledges the city will negotiate certain terms and conditions for contracting minority and women-owned businesses and hiring local minority labor, including through the active job training programs, when asked to contribute to a development costing more than $1 million.

The written policy mandates the hiring be a "fair representation" of the city's African-American demographic, about 22 percent of Falls residents. Some 29 percent of the city's total population, according to the policy document, are members of a minority group.

The hiring goals will be based on a number of individuals, not a percentage of the workforce, according to the city's Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo. As opposed to stipulating a percentage target for hires, Piccirillo said the individual hire metric is easier to track and vet.

Scott gave credit to Greg Myles, a tradesman with Laborers Local 91 and a member of NOAH, for his work in the endeavor. He saw a need firsthand and got involved, he said.

Myles said she's not worried about people being skeptical about the new goals. He pointed to the $1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium, the new home of the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings, where he said initially intimidating hiring targets were exceeded by multiple percentage points.

"They put high minority percentage goals that contractors said they couldn't meet. They exceeded them, because they gave some minorities the opportunity to succeed," he said. "That's all we're saying. Give us the opportunity and see what we can do."

While the policy is a step in the right direction, Scott said NOAH remains committed to seeing its provisions "implemented to satisfactory completion." She called it a major step in NOAH's mission of "racial and economic justice."

"NOAH is the first organization to have taken the city to this point," she said after the ceremony. "No other organization has done this, so this is a milestone."