Thursday, January 14, 2010

Minnesota Stadiums’ construction meets minority and female workforce participation goals

Stadiums’ construction workforces mostly White — but less so than usual

January 13, 2010

The University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Twins and others have been aggressively promoting the "workforce diversity" achieved in the construction of both the Gophers' football stadium, which opened last fall, and the Twins' stadium, which is expected to open in March this year. Both stadium projects together involved hundreds of millions of dollars in construction costs, much of it public funds.

M.A. Mortenson Construction was the general contractor for both stadiums and claimed in November that they exceeded their workforce diversity goals in building the two stadiums. They stated that 41-percent minority and female workforce participation was achieved on the U of M stadium project, exceeding the 31-percent goal.

They also stated that approximately 32-percent minority and female workforce participation has been achieved on the Twins ballpark project as of October 2009, exceeding a 30-percent goal.

When asked how many Blacks worked on both projects, Mortenson spokeswoman Lynn Littlejohn said that the construction industry standard, along with federal guidelines, mandates that workforce goals are shown in percentages rather than in the actual number of workers. Furthermore, "Goals are expressed in work hours, which is a truer representation of the diversity of the workforce, as opposed to saying the number of bodies on the site," Littlejohn explained.

However, these percentages provided for the general category "minority" did not enable the MSR to determine the level of participation by African American workers and businesses. We insisted on and later received from Mortenson a specific ethnicity breakdown of work hours on both projects:
• Gophers' stadium - Mortenson reports 1.2 million total workforce hours; 183,025 total minority hours. Ethnicity breakdown: 37 percent Black (67,719 hours); 27 percent Hispanic (49,417 hours); 27 percent Native American (49,417 hours); and nine percent Asian (16,472 hours).
• Twins' stadium (through October 2009) - Mortenson reports 1.9 million total workforce hours; 503,000 total minority hours. Ethnicity breakdown: 37 percent Black (186,110 hours); 27 percent Hispanic (135,810 hours); 27 percent Native American (135,810 hours) and nine percent Asian (45,270 hours).
However, these percentages show only the proportion of each ethnic group's participation within the "minority hours" subcategory rather than as a proportion of the "total workforce hours." Our calculations of the proportion of each group's work as a percentage of the whole, including White workers, showed quite different levels of participation:
• Gophers' stadium: 1.2 million total workforce hours; 183,025 total minority hours (15 percent of total). Ethnicity breakdown: Black (67,719 hours - 5.6 percent of total); Hispanic (49,417 hours - 4.1 percent of total); Native American (49,417 hours - 4.1 percent of total); and Asian (16,472 hours - 1.4 percent of total).
• Twins' stadium (through October 2009): 1.9 million total workforce hours; 503,000 total minority hours (26.5 percent of total). Ethnicity breakdown: Black (186,110 hours - 9.8 percent of total); Hispanic (135,810 hours - 7.2 percent of total); Native American (135,810 hours - 7.2 percent of total) and Asian (45,270 hours - 2.4 percent).

This analysis shows, then, that 85 percent of the work building the new Gophers' stadium and 73.5 percent of the work building the new Twins' stadium has been done by White workers. Black workers did 5.6 percent of the work on the Gophers' stadium and have done 9.8 percent of the work on the Twins' stadium thus far, based on Mortenson's numbers.

Our analysis raised additional questions about the percentages and work hours provided by Mortenson. It seems unlikely that all four groups would have contributed exactly the same labor proportionately on two separate projects: percentages of 37/27/27/9 were given for Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians respectively on both stadiums.

It seems even more unlikely that on both projects Hispanics and Native Americans contributed exactly the same number of work hours - 135,810 each for the Twins' stadium and 49,417 each for the Gophers' stadium. We received the following explanation of these oddities from Mortenson Marketing Manager Lynette Todd:

"We tracked minority hours by ethnicity for Target Field [the Twins' stadium] due to the public meetings held on a monthly basis throughout construction. Since the scopes of work between the two projects were similar in many cases, we estimated the same percentages for TCF Bank Stadium [the Gophers' stadium]. That is the explanation for the similarity in numbers for between the two projects. Again, because it is not standard industry practice to track minority hours by ethnicity it is difficult to provide the exact numbers you are searching for."

In other words, minority participation in the Gophers' stadium project was not tracked by specific ethnic groups, so Mortenson guessed at those numbers based on participation in the Twins' stadium project.

Also last November, Mortenson recognized 24 subcontractors who helped the company in meeting and exceeding workforce diversity goals on the two stadium projects. Contract sizes reportedly ranged from $2,000 to $5 million on the Gophers site, and $99 million in subcontracted work was awarded through October on the Twins stadium site.

"We were looking at firms who worked a significant amount of hours, who would impact the participation," said Littlejohn, adding that with the exception of four, all the firms were White-owned. "We established small, minority- and women-owned goals for each bid package that we put out, and that was part of the evaluation and selection criteria."

Asked to identify the ethnicity of the four non-White subcontractors, Littlejohn would only repeat that they are "minority-owned." The MSR has been able to identify only one as a Native American-owned firm.

Todd later informed us that "Mortenson has researched several lists published online through the State of Minnesota for small women-and minority-owned firms. In most cases, we could not pinpoint the firm's ethnicity since the primary focus of the lists is to identify businesses by small, women- or minority-owned status. We would not be able to provide accurate statistics through these lists."

Again, we were concerned that this lack of specificity beyond the general category "minority" would not enable the MSR to determine the level of participation, if any, by African American contractors. We took our concerns to two of Minnesota's highest ranking Black elected officials. Both expressed dissatisfaction over our inability to obtain accurate, ethnic-specific involvement on the two stadium projects.

"I don't why it is so hard to find that information," said State Rep. Bobby Champion. "They [Mortenson] know who it is, [whether] woman, Black, or [other] person of color. I don't know why it appears to be that difficult. It is something that I will take a look at and see if they are not complying...and how we can make sure that information is more readily available."

"I find it somewhat troubling that for a publicly funded, publicly financed stadium we have a lack of transparency on whom and where state taxpayer dollars went to," said State Rep. Jeff Hayden. "This is troubling to me and it is something I would be willing to look at and investigate."

Mortenson should be applauded if diversity hiring goals are met, Champion believes. "If firms are doing their goals and exceeding them, we want them to be applauded. We want to make sure that they are intentionally making sure that the quality of lives of people of color and women are being improved by their ability to get out and work on these publicly funded projects."

Finally, the state legislator pledges, "We need to intentionally make sure that there is inclusion. There are people of color and women who are able to do the work, and that work ought to be utilized both on public and privately funded projects."

Summit Academy OIC Executive Director Louis King said that he was involved with Mortenson in setting diversity hiring goals. "It wasn't pretty when we first got started," he recalled. Yet, he applauded the company "for the reports that they developed to support [workforce diversity].

"The biggest thing they did, and what we are trying to get adopted as an industry standard, is take the project [and divide it] by phase, subcontractor, trade, and project out what the minority hiring needs would be."

Mortenson and King's school have worked together to place his students on construction sites after their training is completed, he said. Over 70 percent of Summit Academy students are Black. "They complied," King said of Mortenson's workforce diversity claims.

King added that the community must be more involved in large-scale construction projects from start to finish. "We can't just have the planners get in the room and not give any thought on who gets the money. It is our responsibility as a community to understand the industry standard and identify, recruit, train and provide people who can meet those standards."

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-re’-construction-workforces-mostly-white-—-less-so-usual


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