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Port in a Storm

Albany Common Council member expresses concern over minority hiring in Port of Albany reconstruction

Following a public announcement that $5 million in federal stimulus money will be used to complete the second phase of the wharf reconstruction effort underway at the Port of Albany, local legislators have raised concerns that the project has not hired enough local or minority employees to fill jobs created by the state- and federally funded project.

On June 14, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and other local elected officials gave a press conference at the Port of Albany to discuss the progress of the wharf restoration project already under way and to announce the use of federal stimulus funds to complete the second phase of the project. Days later, an e-mail was sent by Albany Common Councilman Anton Konev to a number of his colleagues on the council, denouncing the hiring practices of the construction company, C.D. Perry & Sons, and calling for a halt to the multimillion-dollar project until more local and minority workers are hired.

The e-mail included an unreleased press advisory prepared by Konev containing the names of councilmen Ron Bailey and Lester Freeman, Councilwoman Jackie Jenkins-Cox, as well as former Councilman Corey Ellis. The advisory stated that the “council members are disappointed that Troy construction company C.D. Perry & Sons hired for this work has no local minority workers. They are releasing a letter to Congressman Paul Tonko and President Barack Obama to call for immediate halt of the project unless local minority workers are hired.” Konev pushed for these members to hold a press conference immediately.

In a return e-mail, Freeman cautioned Konev not to “jump the gun.”

These allegations are confusing to Jay Ryan, the vice president of C.D. Perry & Sons.

“I haven’t heard anything about this,” he said. “We’re a union contractor, we’re not in the human-resources business, but we certainly encourage women and minorities to apply and we have both on the project. We hire exclusively local union members, and we have a labor contract with limits and goals. We don’t like to look at people as quotas, but there are specific goals and we try to reach them.”

An employee utilization report dated May 2010 shows that, of the 30 employees working on the project at that time, 10 percent were minority (all three were black, non-hispanic employees). The report also showed that, with 31 percent of the project completed, 9.29 percent of the total working hours had gone to minority employees and 9.07 percent to women. Ryan pointed out that the goal set for this particular project is 3.2 percent for minorities and 6.9 percent for women.

“We have exceeded our goals,” said Ryan. “And we’re open to hiring more, we certainly want to do our part. New people are coming on board every day, and the next phase will require different people than the first.”

The reconstruction project is intended to expand and modernize the current wharf to support more and larger shipments. The old wooden structures currently are being replaced by steel and concrete, and two more berths capable of handling large international shipments are being added. The second phase, federally funded, will extend the wharf as well as the heavy rail tracks connecting the port to the main line of CSX and Canadian Pacific. According to the Port of Albany Web site, “Previously, the cargo was brought in by train to a point just outside the port then put onto trucks that brought the cargo to the port’s existing rail line.”

“The bigger the boats, the more we can take,” said Albany Port District Commissioner Dominick Tagliento. “Bigger boats usually go into New Jersey or New York City. Now we can take them here,” he said, mentioning that larger shipments also mean more varied cargo.

“I think the construction company is doing a great job,” he added, saying that he had heard nothing about the concerns of the city legislators. “I think he hires from right here in the Capital District. I know you have to be qualified—he hires masons and ironworkers—but, from what I see, they’ve done everything in the bid and they’re a local outfit.”

Freeman said that the issue has been turned over to Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, who did not return calls for an interview. Jennings’ office didn’t return calls either.

“We want to have a meeting to find out what they’re actually doing with the money,” Freeman said. “We’re looking for jobs and this is one of the projects that could provide them.” Freeman said that, as far as he knew, no meeting has yet been scheduled. He also said that he did not know how many minority or local workers had been hired and expressed a belief that the entire project was funded with federal stimulus money.

In fact, the first phase of the project—$7.6 million—is being paid for by the New York State DOT “Rebuild NY Bond Act of 2003” and Albany Port District funding.

The entire $5 million cost of Phase 2 will be covered by federal stimulus funds.

Konev said that, following further investigation, a presentation will be given at the next council caucus on June 30.

If the project is halted, the 33 current employees could lose their jobs, according to Ryan. Delays would also push back the projected completion date (October) and cost the city money in lost port traffic.

“Give them my phone number,” said Ryan. “They’ll have to join a union, but I invite anyone to apply.”

—Ali Hibbs

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