Friday, June 1, 2012

When Jobs Are Scarce, Racial Politics Gets Ugly

Four of Baltimore’s African American political leaders are threatening to join as plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to halt further work on a $1.8 billion urban renewal project just to the north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, because, they contend, not enough of the construction contracts and skilled trades jobs are going to blacks and other minorities. Maryland State Senator Nathaniel McFadden, Maryland Delegate Talmadge Branch, Baltimore City Council President Bernard Young and Councilman Carl Stokes want to bring a halt to construction of a $99 million state health laboratory on the urban renewal site. Citing an analysis of hiring for construction of the state lab which shows only $13.4 million in contracts, of the total $57.5 awarded thus far, went to Baltimore businesses, and only $4.4 million to Baltimore minority owned businesses, Delegate Branch says: “We’re going to slow this train down. There are too many contractors bringing in employees from other parts of Maryland. It’s like having an event in your backyard, but you can’t come to the event. You can’t come to the party. You can’t work and businesses here can’t get a contract … it’s not right and it’s not fair.”

Branch, however, cites no evidence that there are qualified minority workers or minority owned businesses within Baltimore to perform the construction work called for on the contract, or that any minority businesses bidding on project contracts were rejected for reasons other than price. While Council President Young says that 80% of the workers on a graduate student residential tower within the project lived outside the city, and only 8% were from the East Baltimore neighborhood where the tower stands, he made no mention of any statistics showing the population of skilled construction tradespeople residing in the neighborhood.

Young’s rallying cry of “We want jobs, and meaningful jobs,” rings a little hollow in the absence of any indication that “we” are qualified to do the meaningful work available on projects such as this.
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