Saturday, November 27, 2010

How the GOP Blew it on the Paycheck Fairness Act -- and Who the Biggest Cowards Were

Amy Siskind

Amy Siskind

Posted: November 17, 2010 09:17 PM

Well, it didn't take long. The Republican Party was handed a historic opportunity with women. For the first time since the advent of exit polling data in 1982, women voters favored the GOP in the 2010 election. A rather shocking occurrence given that just two short years ago, President Obama had a 14 point advantage with women. What does the GOP do with this historic opportunity? Blow it!

Wednesday, The Senate voted 58-41 against allowing debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Not a single Republican voted "yea." Wise up there GOP -- if you have any hopes of taking the White House in 2012, you'll need women voters. But after shooting down the Paycheck Fairness Act Wednesday and perpetuating a boys' club in Congress, you ain't showing us much.

Here's what we know from the 2010 election: issue #1 for women is economic security. That's why women gave the GOP a once in a generation opportunity to win us over. Absurdly, the Republican Party then turns around and pushes women away by thwarting our financial security. Ya know, us 'wimminz' -- the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families.

Is the Paycheck Fairness Act perfect? No. Does it solve the disparity of pay that women face? Not totally. But it is a huge step towards women's financial security. Sadly, here's what the GOP said to women Wednesday: "we don't believe women deserve to make the same wage as men for doing the same job." It's not much more complicated than that. Even if the bill in it's current form (which likely no Republican Senator actually read) wasn't nirvana, then bring it to the floor and hash it out.

There's plenty of blame to go around. And, it's time for some accountability! Here are the recipients of the Paycheck Fairness Act Coward Awards.

1. Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) -- after courageously going against their party to vote with the Democrats in February 2009 for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Wednesday Senators Snowe and Collins showed that they care more about their 2012 re-elections than women. Cowards!

2. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) -- after much ballyhoo as a bipartisan leader for women, including voting for the Fair Pay Act and a joint appearance with Secretary Clinton at the Women's History Museum, Senator Hutchinson let us down. Coward!

3. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) -- who also voted for the Fair Pay Act, recently boasted that she will not be beholden to the GOP. She will, however, sell-out women. Standing ovation on the Senate Floor Tuesday - jet set out of town before the vote Wednesday. Coward!

4. Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett (D) (Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls) -- progressive blogger Joanne Bamberger said it best on Facebook: President Obama and his advisor Valerie Jarrett have said time and again they are committed to passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act and it was a priority to them. Wednesday, fair pay failed by 2 votes. They couldn't use their "commitment" to women to get us 2 votes?

It's unclear which offense is worse: not fighting for women or being completely ineffectual as Chair of the White House Council. What is clear: Coward!

5. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) -- who has buried the Paycheck Fairness Act since its passage in the House in January 2009. Senator Reid failed to use the momentum of the passage of the Fair Pay Act. Fighter for women? You kidding? Coward!

The only ray of light for women in this fiasco is the continued ascension of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, an unabashed and unapologetic advocate for women. After being written off as an 'easy target' in 2010, Senator Gillibrand went on to slay over 30 would-be challengers, and then romp her opponent Joseph DioGuardi 62-36. Senator Gillibrand took the airwaves slamming the Republicans and clearly explaining how their actions Wednesday hurt both women and children:

Can you say: Gillibrand 2016!

As for the cowards, we need to hold them accountable. Even though it was the GOP that blew it this week, there's plenty of blame to go around.

What we do know from the 2010 election is that women's votes are in play. Time will tell which party will seize the opportunity!

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North Chicago residents call for minority participation on the new Cultural Center

News-Sun Staff Report Nov 8, 2010 4:02PM

Some residents are calling for more minority and female participation in the expansion project at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago.

The $5.6 million project includes the construction of a new 18,500-square-foot building adjacent to the existing facility, which is owned and operated by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Waukegan resident Chris Blanks, local president of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said Thursday that no black or female laborers are working on the project.

“It’s an embarrassment,” Blanks said. “This is a Lake County cultural center erected and established in the name of cultural expression and diversity, but we don’t see this as far as where our tax dollars go in. This is $5 million building.”

Blanks said Thursday morning that members of his group would protest at the center Thursday afternoon.

Lake County Forest Preserve Board member Angelo Kyle of Waukegan said he was aware of Blanks’ complaints. Kyle said that he had spoken with the general contractor of the project, who said they use the workers sent to the project by the unions.

Kyle said he believes contractors could exert authority to request minority and female participation. He said he was unsure if the forest preserve district would address the matter, but added that he feels minorities need to be involved “with the influx of construction in the county” resulting from federal stimulus programs.

District Executive Director Tom Hahn said Thursday that the district has a purchasing policy that includes open bidding and the selection of the lowest responsible bidder. The district does not have a minority hiring policy included in its contract awards, he said.

Foresters ask contractors to hire more minorities

By Jim Newton Nov 11, 2010 08:50PM

Following a protest last week at which pickets pointed out the lack of diversity among construction workers at the Greenbelt Cultural Center expansion project in North Chicago, Lake County Forest Preserve District officials have asked the project’s contractors to increase minority participation.

District Executive Director Tom Hahn told the Forest Board’s Finance Committee Thursday that following the protest, he consulted with district legal counsel and was told that under state law, the district cannot force contractors to hire women and minorities, but it can request that they do so.

District officials then made that request to the $5.6 million expansion project’s construction manager and 20 contractors.

“I think we are doing all we can within the policy and laws we are covered by,” Hahn said, noting that the district already had been encouraging minority contractors to produce bids in through the Forest Preserve District’s open bidding process.

The board’s three black members, Angelo Kyle and Mary Ross Cunningham of Waukegan and Audrey Nixon of North Chicago, all said the lack of black workers at a project in the heart of a minority community was especially upsetting to residents.

“It’s in a community that’s mostly African-American,” Nixon said at Thursday’s meeting.
The committee agreed that minority and female representation should be increased in forest preserve projects in all communities, and agreed to consider looking at the qualification requirements for contractors to see if the “benchmarks” with regard to issues such as years of experience and the number of past projects are too high, a suggestion made by committee member David Stolman of Buffalo Grove.

Although construction projects are down because of the economy, Forest Board President Bonnie Thomson Carter of Ingleside said the district should continue to address the issue each year and consider legislative proposals that could give the district more leverage in boosting minority hiring.

Portrait of a San Francisco construction worker: Not Black, Not a Woman, Not a City Resident

Portrait of a San Francisco construction worker

11.11.10 - 2:22 pm | Sarah Phelan

Protesting unemployment
Sarah Phelan

The nation has a black president and a female Secretary of State. But only three percent of San Francisco's construction workforce are black or female.

One of the many fascinating pieces of data to emerge in the discussion about Sup. John Avalos’ proposal to mandate local hiring is a recently published analysis of the characteristics of construction workers whose primary workplace is San Francisco.

In October, L. Luster & Associates published a labor market analysis, using data from EDD payrolls and the U.S. Census American Community Survey, that shows there were 14,629 construction workers employed in San Francisco in June 2010. And that five trades currently dominate this workforce and constitute more than 75 percent of the total numbers of construction workers employed in the city.

Carpenters are the biggest group (4,623 workers) followed by construction laborers (2,796 workers) painters (1,459 workers), electricians (1,119 workers) and plumbers, pipe fitters and steamfitters (1,023 workers).

But while this population shows racial diversity (whites and Latinos each make up about 40 percent of the workforce, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders at 17 percent) African Americans and women each account for only 3 percent of this market. In other words, only 440 African Americans and 405 women were construction workers in June 2010, compared to 5,830 Latinos, 5673 whites, 2,528 Asians and Pacific Islanders.

So, how do these ethnic percentages compare with San Francisco’s overall distribution?
“Latinos make up a considerably larger portion of workforce than they do the overall population (40 percent of construction workforce v. 13 percent of city’s population),” the Luster report states. “ All other major racial categories constitute a smaller portion of the construction workforce than they do of the total population: Whites (39 percent of construction workforce compared to 49 percent of city population overall) followed by Asian and Pacific Islanders (17 percent compared to 28 percent overall) and African Americans (3 percent compared to 6 percent overall.)

(That last statistic should be a shocker: What?! Only six percent of San Francisco's current residents are African American?! But the city produced a report two years that detailed the "black out migration” –but provided little money or authority to help follow through on the report’s various recommendations).

Meanwhile, Luster’s report concludes that, “the main imbalance between the employed construction workforce and the San Francisco population lies with the gender distribution. Women comprise only 3 percent of the 14,629 construction workers in San Francisco, whereas they account for nearly half of the overall population.”

Next up in the Luster report was the question of residency. And according to its findings, only 39 percent of workers employed in San Francisco’s construction industry call the city and county of San Francisco their home.

San Mateo County is home to 18 percent of this workforce, Alameda County accounts for another 17 percent, Contra Costa County is home to 13 percent, Sonoma and Marin each are home to 8 percent, and Napa and Solano County each account for a further 5 percent.

These numbers are significant in a number of ways. For instance, 2, 636 workers commute in from San Mateo, 2,418 from Alameda, 1,929 from Contra Costa, 1,197 from Sonoma and Marin, and 773 workers from Napa and Solano, all of which adds up to wear and tear on roads, impacts on air quality, and increased levels of greenhouse gas generation (depending on whether these workers take public transit, car pool or drive the freeways solo, of course).

It also means that when communities oppose aspects of a local construction project—be it a proposed bridge over Yosemite Slough, or a proposed mega-hospital on Cathedral Hill—they are likely to encounter opposition from a workforce that increasingly lives outside San Francisco, faces a 40 percent unemployment rate, and can be mobilized to show support for these projects, either through showing up physically at meetings or through union dues that can be used to wage political wars with far-reaching percussions for the ability of local residents to influence local land use and economic development decisions.

So, why do so many construction workers live outside San Francisco? The obvious reasons are their relatively low income levels and their related inability to afford housing in the city.
According to Luster’s report, “nearly 33 percent of these workers report earnings of less than $30,000 per year” (based on data that incorporates union and non-union workers, and part-time workers).

Another way of looking at this is to study Luster’s analysis of construction workers who currently live in San Francisco.

“From EDD payroll data and from historic employment relationships between San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties, we estimate there were 7,855 construction workers residing in San Francisco and who were employed as of June 2010—roughly 1 percent of total residents in the city,” Luster reports.

The Luster report also notes that the same five trades make up an even higher proportion of the resident employed construction workforce than they did the total employed construction workforce in the city (86 percent v 75 percent). But now the top two places are reversed: Construction Laborers is the largest trade with 2,442 workers, followed by Carpenters (1,914 workers), Painters (1,122 workers), Electricians (814 workers) and Plumbers (484 workers).

The ethnic distribution of these resident workers is also diverse. Whites (34 percent,) Latinos (31 percent), Asians and Pacific Islanders (30 percent, which is considerably higher than for the overall workforce employed in San Francisco) and African Americans (5 percent).

But women, once again, make up only 3 percent of residents in construction employment.
The Luster report takes the analysis one step further by looking at age distribution. This criterion reveals that the white resident construction workforce is aging, as is the Asian resident construction workforce, though to a lesser extent.

“By contract, the Latino workforce is concentrated among the younger age groups, particularly among the 25-34 age group,” Luster notes. “Of note, 47 percent of the resident San Francisco construction workforce is over the age of 45. Moreover, 23 percent is already 55 years and older. Currently, the number of workers aged 55-64 is 1,544 and declines to 264 for workers aged 65 and older, dropping from 20 percent of the workforce to 3 percent. If construction workers continue to leave the sector in the same proportions by the time they reach 64, a sizeable number of new openings will be created.”

The report, which goes into detailed breakdowns of apprentices (each of the four largest ethnic groups have almost equal shares, and women have 10 percent), the construction trades (which has a greater participation of white workers) and journey people, also gets into workforce projections (the bulk of the jobs generated by the city’s Capital Plan will be generated within the first five years) local hire programs and policy issues. As such, it’s a must-read for those following Avalos’ proposed local hire legislation, and you can view the full report by clicking here.

Feds investigate NY Public-Works Construction Hiring: Fraud, Exclusion, or Unrealistic DBE Requirements?

Fraud Inquiries Focus on Public-Works Construction Hiring in New York
Public works projects in New York are among those under federal scrutiny, with contractors’ evasion of hiring requirements suspected.

Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times
Workers from Skanska USA Civil Northeast at the Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan. The company is the subject of an investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
Published: November 23, 2010
Two of the nation’s major construction companies are under federal investigation, suspected of defrauding government programs on some of the biggest public-works projects in and around New York City, according to people briefed on the inquiries.
The projects under scrutiny include the city’s $2.8 billion Croton Water Treatment Plant and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $1.4 billion Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan, the people briefed on the investigations said.

The two inquiries focus on accusations that the contractors used what were essentially front companies to evade requirements that they hire a certain percentage of subcontractors owned by minorities or women, or businesses certified by government agencies as disadvantaged, the people said.

One of the investigations is expected to be resolved in the coming days with an agreement between one contractor under scrutiny, Schiavone Construction Company, and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. The agreement will allow Schiavone, one of region’s biggest tunneling contractors, to avoid criminal charges but will require it to pay more than $20 million and maintain certain internal reforms it has put in place, the people said.

The second investigation focuses on Skanska USA Civil Northeast, a subsidiary of Skanska USA, which is ranked among the nation’s top 10 contractors in several categories, including transportation, general building revenue and new contracts, according to several of the people, who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the cases had not yet been made public.

While that inquiry, which is being conducted by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, is not as far along, people briefed on that case said it could lead to a similar — perhaps even larger — payment.

Neither company has been charged with a crime.

A lawyer for Skanska, Martin Flumenbaum, said Tuesday: “We understand that there is a broad inquiry relating to the use of minority business enterprises in public-works construction projects in the New York area. Skanska is cooperating fully in connection with that inquiry and is committed fully to complying with laws and regulations governing the use of minority business enterprises.”

Austin V. Campriello, who represents Schiavone, declined to comment. The company was bought in 2007 by Dragados Inversiones USA, part of a Spanish construction conglomerate, after the conduct at the center of the investigation was said to have occurred.

Taken together, the two cases underscore what some law enforcement officials and analysts say is the systemic abuse of similar city, state and federal programs put in place in an effort to level the playing field for companies owned by minorities and women and those certified as disadvantaged.

In New York State, billions of dollars have flowed through this patchwork of programs in recent years, although precise figures are hard to compile.

The projects under scrutiny in the two investigations, which prosecutors are conducting with the transportation authority’s inspector general, are not the only major undertakings by Schiavone and Skanska in the city. In joint ventures with a third company, they are also involved in some of the authority’s most ambitious efforts. They have a $1.14 billion contract to build the tunnels and station structures for the No. 7 subway line extension and a $337 million contract to build some of the tunnels for the Second Avenue subway, though no accusations of wrongdoing have been raised in connection with those projects.

The schemes at the center of the two investigations are simple: Rather than hire a minority- or women-owned subcontractor or a company the federal government has certified as a struggling business, the contractors ran the payroll for their own workers — or paid another subcontractor — through a minority company that served as a “pass through.”

In the case of Schiavone, based in Secaucus, N.J., part of the scheme centered on a company hired to haul away dirt excavated from the water-treatment plant project and work at the $530 million South Ferry subway station renovation and at the Times Square station. The company did a tiny part of the work, while most of it was performed by another company, a mob-connected trucking firm, the people briefed on the case said.

Skanska, those with knowledge of that case said, paid workers for dewatering and demolition at the Fulton Street Transit Center site through a company called Environmental Energy Associates in Ridgefield, N.J. That company, a certified disadvantaged business enterprise, or D.B.E., collected a fee for the service it provided, handling just the payroll, the people said.

Representatives of the offices of the United States attorney in Brooklyn, Loretta E. Lynch, and the Manhattan United States attorney, Preet Bharara, declined to comment on Tuesday.

Several law enforcement officials who investigate construction corruption acknowledged that the goals for the participation of minority- and women-owned contractors and disadvantaged businesses often did not accurately reflect the universe of qualified companies.

A longtime construction industry official who has worked with community groups in an effort to increase the level of participation by female and minority contractors said the often-limited options had made a range of sometimes illegal — at times blatant — solutions commonplace.

The complex set of requirements for certification as a disadvantaged contractor includes being a member of what the federal government characterizes as a “socially or economically disadvantaged” group — women, blacks, Native Americans, Asians and others — as well as a $750,000 limit on personal net worth, a maximum average gross receipts for the business over three years of roughly $22 million and a certain measure of independence from non-D.B.E. firms.

Prosecutors, investigators and industry observers said it was hard to measure the scope of this type of fraud, but most agreed it was widespread. And while such crimes do not result in the theft of government funds — the money is paid and the work is done — they undermine the intent of the federal, state and local laws, which were written to create opportunities for struggling and minority- and women-owned companies. Also, in the view of some, they contribute to a culture of corruption in the industry.

Prosecutors in the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn have long focused on such cases.

Its Federal Construction Fraud Task Force has made 61 arrests over the past decade for crimes related to this type of fraud. As a result, forfeiture orders have totaled more than $150 million, and 28 people and companies have been banned from seeking additional federal contracts, according to a recent court filing.

But while the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan has seldom made such cases, the investigation of Skanska signals an increased focus in this area for the prosecutors there, some officials have said.

The reasons seem clear. In the past year, New York City’s four-year-old program has resulted in $511 million in prime contracts and subcontracts for certified companies, according to the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. Over the life of the city’s program — referred to as W/MBE, for women- and minority-owned business enterprise — more than $1 billion has gone to such contracts, according to the office.

At just one federal agency, the Transportation Department, a similar program resulted in $617 million worth of prime and subcontracts in 2009 in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, officials said. That money was for highway and transportation projects, like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ones under scrutiny in the two cases, the officials said. That federal program, which certifies and assists what it characterizes as disadvantaged business enterprises, was in some measure the model for the city’s effort.

The investigations developed in two ways. The Brooklyn inquiry grew out of a case focused on mob influence in the trucking industry and the work of an independent monitor who had been hired by the transportation authority to oversee the downtown projects after a scandal involving the construction of the agency’s headquarters, at 2 Broadway.

The trucking investigation uncovered the scheme at the water filtration plant, and the monitor, Toby Thacher, developed information indicating that the disadvantaged business enterprises working on the authority’s projects were fronts. The information was passed on to the office of the transportation authority’s inspector general, Barry Kluger. His office and the federal prosecutors, who in the Brooklyn case worked with the city’s Department of Investigation on the water-treatment plant inquiry, built the cases.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 23, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the location of a water treatment facility for New York City.

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