Monday, September 28, 2009

It's time for OFCCP to modernize to reflect female breadwinners

It’s time for OFCCP to reflect the 21st century (Rep. Rosa DeLauro)
By Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) - 09/24/09 12:00 PM ET

Earlier this week, I, Congressman Pete Stark, and 24 of our colleagues signed a letter urging Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to modernize the affirmative action goals set by the Office of Federal Contracts and Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in 1980 to reflect the current realities of female participation in the construction industry.

This issue is a no-brainer – OFCCP standards, which were designed to end the long-standing exclusion of women in construction, should reflect the world as it is today, not as it was decades ago.

For example, the OFCCP minimum standard for total number of work hours performed by women on a given federal contract progressed from 3.1% to 5% to 6.9% over a period of three years when the program was first established. But after this very positive start, this 6.9% participation rate – based on data from the 1970 census – has not been further expanded in over 30 years.

This is 30 years too late, and the time to act is now. As From the Ground Up: Building Opportunities for Women in Construction, a July 2008 report by Legal Momentum, concluded, the “convergence of economic and demographic trends” in the construction industry – many new projects, a retiring male workforce, growing numbers of women in the field – “means that conditions are optimal for increasing women’s participation in the construction workforce.”

Moreover, as Wider Opportunities for Women has pointed out, higher workforce goals usually results in higher participation for women. When the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. established a goal of 15 percent women for the deconstruction of the Deutsche Bank building, the result was 20 percent women on site, including one superintendent.

In short, these OFCCP standards are based on forty-year-old data that in no way reflect the considerable progress we have seen in the construction industry over the past four decades. A more appropriate participation goal, based on current workforce and demographic data, is both legally defensible and critical to assist women in making more gains in non-traditional fields.

In these hard economic times, women are carrying a huge burden in supporting their families and acting as primary breadwinners, particularly given that they make 78 cents on the dollar as compared to men. Yet, women with less than a college degree can earn 20 to 30 percent more in construction jobs than those in occupations normally open to them. It is past time we helped women establish a firmer foothold in the construction industry, one that reflects their numbers in the labor force.

We should not live in the past. These OFCCP standards should reflect the America of 2010, not the America of 1970.


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