Betty Jean Grant

Betty Jean Grant

SolarCity and LP Ciminelli to Appear at Community Meeting 

On Thursday, June 16, representatives from SolarCity and LP Ciminelli will be the guests of the Contract Compliance Reviewat a community meeting at the Merriweather Library from6-7:45 p.m.

Mr. Kevin Schuler and Ms. Stephanie Pennington will address the minority and women hiring goals of their company, LP Ciminelli and alsoexplain how the hours of minority and women workers are computed in reaching their minority hiring goals.. This explanation by them is needed because the community is confused as to howthe ‘total hours’ concept is used. However, that concept does not accurately detail the number of workers on the job; only the total accumulative hours worked by all of them.

 Representatives from SolarCity will talk about the recently sharp reduction in the number of manufacturing jobs that will be available for future hires. After announcing last year that 1,460 jobs will be filled at the RiverBend site, SolarCity stated last month they only need the lower number because robots will fill the void. At a community meeting held recently at he A.D. Price Community Center, SolarCity was told, in no uncertain term by this writer that, “Since robots did not make all that money the government ‘gave’ to SolarCity, we should not be replacing those taxpaying human’s jobs with robots!”

The meeting will start on time and parking is available on the streets around the library and in the Apollo Theater and E. Utica St. parking lots across the street from the Merriweather. Please come early for open seating and the general public is invited. For more information, please call Legislator Betty Jean Grant @ (716) 602-5877 or Charley H. Fisher @(716) 650-8889.



Why Is It So Difficult for Buffalo to Commit to Funding a Disparity Study?

Betty Jean Grant 

During the much successful protest rally heldSolarCity last Fall, many of the protesters wondered why the state or federal government did not step in and force the city or at least the contractors that were doing business with the city via the Billions for Buffalo,  to diversify their workforce? It was explained to them by protest organizer and former county contract compliance officer, Charley H. Fisher, that before the city could be made to do anything, it must be shown or documented that the minorities in Buffalo were unfairly denied jobs, training opportunities or the awarding of construction contracts.

This lack of proof, that has been talked about for years, can only be verified by the development of a Disparity Study that will show, unconditionally, that there are problems in the way African American and Latino populations are systemically being left out of training opportunities, placement in unions’ apprenticeship programs and the awarding of bidding contracts to minority companies. Even though one has to onlyvisit any job site in the Buffalo/Niagara Medical Corridor, SolarCity or anywhere else, the absence of diversity and ‘color’ on those job sites can not be dismissed. But since we are discouraged from believing what our eyes clearly see, we are told that we need scientific documentation that ‘Black and Brown folks’ are being discriminated against in the City of Buffalo.

The call for a Disparity Study became a rallying cry under the Masiello administration and during the era of the Joint School Construction Board that saw the renovation of many of our city’s public schools around seventeen years ago. Former Council Members Charley H. Fisher, Antoine M. Thompson, and this writer were three of the most vocal voices in city government calling for the mayor to fund the study. The will to do this in the Masiello administration was not there and those of us who wanted the Study could not lobby enough Council embers’ votes to over ride the mayor’s decision. After the 2003 General Election’s defeat of Council Members Fisher and Grant, the demand for a Disparity Study quietly died.

There are millions of dollars being spent and earned by contractors and workers who are enjoying the ‘fruits’ of a very generous governor of New York State, who makes sure that upstate New York and especially Buffalo, were going to get a chance to experience a Renaissance. That is happening now, from SolarCity in South Buffalo to the inner and outer harborsto the downtown medical corridor to Canalside. With all this planning for Buffalo, someone must have forgotten that no monies were allocated for the area east of Main Street. Promises were made by those in power that a second funding source from the Buffalo Billion, called the Better Buffalo Fund, would address transportation, commercial strips and neighborhoods concerns. I have seen the detailed map that shows the targeted areas that will be developed under this special funding source but like all things that have gone before, most of the eastside commercial strips and neighborhoods are left out, once again. Then to add insult to injury, business owners and neighborhood organizations have to apply for the grants or loans through a competitive process that may leave the blighted and poverty stricken areas of the city underfunded yet again.

Most of us who stayed in the city while others abandoned it decades ago, do not need a study to tell us what we already know. But since African American and Latino youths won’t get an opportunity to be trained or to work without it, I say to the City of Buffalo and its elected and appointed officials; find the money to fund the Disparity Study in this year’s 2016 budget!  The poor people of the lower West side and East side of Buffalo have waited long enough!


Grant Calls For Jefferson Avenue Renaissance!

                                  CORNER OF JEFFERSON AND BEST STREET

                                  CORNER OF JEFFERSON AND BEST STREET

Seeks greater expansion and more fundingwhile state monies are still available. Businessmen, residents, leaders urged to attend Feb. 3 planning meeting at theMerriweather Library.

About three years ago, the City Of Buffalo was awarded a Billion Dollars for redevelopment. The targeted areas were the Buffalo Waterfront, the Cobblestone District, Buffalo/Niagara Medical Corridor, UB Medical School and the relocation of Children’s Hospital to High Street. What was blatantly left out of the plan was the redevelopment of the entire eastside of Buffalo (not counting the Medical Corridor that is located in the Fruit Belt area of the Ellicott District). Those of us who brought this oversight of exclusion to the attention of the political leaders, were assured that in the second funding go-round, the Eastside, especially the Jefferson Avenue commercial strip, would be addressed by a smaller pot of funding named the Better Buffalo Fund.

Let’s fast forward to today. The Better Buffalo Fund’s designated streets and areas for redevelopment and rehabilitation have been identified and few streets on the eastside of Buffalo are included. Only a small portion of Jefferson Ave; from Glenwood to Florida Street, is included in the Plan that was distributed to residents and merchants at a meeting hosted by the Black Chamber of Commerce at the Apollo Theater about two months ago. This community needs and deserves much more! If Jefferson Avenue and other commercial strips and streets are not addressed with this round of funding, there is no telling when additional money will be released by the state for this purpose.

In 2000, Council Member-At-Large Beverly A. Gray, Council President James W. Pitts, 50 women With A Vision and the Jefferson Avenue Businessmen’s Association called for a movement made up of merchants, taxpayers, residents and community leaders that became known as the Jefferson Renaissance. It was named after that prolific time in Harlem,  the 1920’s, when artists, poets and business people worked together to uplift that section of New York City that was home to the majority of the city’s African Americans. This brief but successful venture started on Jefferson, in 2000, led to the building of the Tops Supermarket, Apollo Theater and the Frank E. Merriweather Library. All of these projects were completed over ten years ago and little else has happened since!

On Wednesday, February, 3, 2016, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant & We Are Women Warriors will host a ‘Jefferson Avenue Renaissance meeting to help develop a revitalization and redevelopment Plan to rehabilitate Jefferson Avenue, the street that is considered the ‘heart and soul’ of the Black community. The meeting will be held @ the Merriweather Library, 1324 Jefferson Avenue @ 5:30 p.m. We invite the community to come with ideas to put together a comprehensive revitalization Plan that will be presented to Mayor Byron Brown, County Executive Mark Poloncarz and all our local, state and federal elected officials. Please arrive on time as seating is limited. For additional information, please call Legislator Betty Jean Grant @ (716) 602-5877.


Massive Protest Rally Held for Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday

 

Charley H. Fisher, lll, President of B.U.I.L.D. Inc.,  called for a major demonstration and Protest Rally for the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King on January 15th 10:30 a.m. at the corner of Main & Carlton Street, in Buffalo

“It is no coincidence that we chose Dr. King’s birthday as it is no coincidence that the organizers chose the corner of Main & Carlton Street,” said Mr. Fisher. Charley Fisher went on to say, “As we all know, the late, Dr. King was moving toward an economic development agenda that transcended race and ethnicity. He was looking to help the poor citizens of the south and southwest as well as the northern cities that were overrun with poverty and high unemployment among the Blacks as well as the White citizens. Many believe his movement away from social issues and his interests in the well being of people from all background increased his threat among those who sought to keep the races divided.”

Main and Carlton Street is not far from the sites where many state funded projects are being constructed, such as the new UB Medical School, Children’s Hospital, High Point Nursing Home, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and many commercial and residential parking ramps. However, when one looks at the actual construction workers who are constructing these and other buildings, they are not Black and brown people! It has been noted that some of the construction sites have zero workers when it comes to having a diverse workforce. Also, other sites have been accused of unfair and discriminatory hiring practices.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s national holiday will be celebrated Monday, January 18th. There will be many accolades, parties, and celebrations all across the nation, including Buffalo. I can’t speak or know what Dr. king would do if he was still with us but I truly believe that he would attend all those parties in his honor that’s being planned by the best of us. However, I truly believe that he would also have made a‘pit stop’ by our rally to encourage us as we try to help all of those individuals he cared so much about. The rally  began promptly at 10:30 a.m., Friday, Jan. 15th.


KEEPING THE HEAT ON SOLAR CITY 

by 

By Charlotte Keith/ Investigative Post

                  (inset Charlie Fisher & Betty Jean Grant )

                  (inset Charlie Fisher & Betty Jean Grant )

Although the SolarCity plant is meeting its reduced minority workforce goal of 15 percent, to date it’s largely through the hiring of workers from other minority groups – not African Americans

Diversity hiring goals set for the construction of the SolarCity plant in South Buffalo have not translated into a lot of jobs for African-American workers. While African Americans make up an increasing share of the project’s workforce, they accounted for only 5.7 percent of those on the job for the quarter ending this September. That’s in a city that’s almost 40 percent African-American and a county with a workforce that’s 11 percent Black, according to the state Department of Labor. The project is nevertheless meeting its minority workforce goal of 15 percent, largely through the hiring of workers from other minority groups – in particular, Native Americans. 

The proportion of African Americans on the SolarCity construction site does not sit well with some community leaders and elected officials.“It’s not right to see these numbers and only have small totals for African Americans,” said Charley Fisher III, chairman of the Contract Compliance Review Committee, an organization recently formed to advocate for more diversity on local construction projects.

“The African-American community in Buffalo is close to 40 percent. Here it sounds like African Americans aren’t even 40 percent of the minority workforce.”  Paul Brown, president of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, said the relatively low proportion of African-American workers at Riverbend was due to the makeup of the trades that have been working there so far, in particular Operating Engineers and Ironworkers – unions in which Black workers have not traditionally been well-represented. That explanation doesn’t sit well with Fisher, who is also president of B.U.I.L.D of Buffalo.  “There is not a fair representation of African Americans and other minorities in the trade unions, period,” he said. 

Minorities made up 11 percent of the local construction unions in 2012, according to a census conducted by LPCiminelli as part of the Buffalo schools reconstruction project; that census does not provide a more detailed breakdown by racial group.

Low Proportion of Black Workers

Two numbers put the employment of Black construction workers at SolarCity into perspective. While they make up an increasing share of the workforce, they accounted for only 5.7 percent of those on the job from July through September, the most recent period for which numbers have been compiled.  As a result, African Americans made up less than half of the share of the minority workforce at SolarCity. Of the roughly 200 minority workers on site over the summer, 42 percent were Native American, 38 percent African-American, 18 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian. This despite the fact that African-Americans are by far the largest minority group in both the City of Buffalo and Erie County.  

“Government can create opportunities for job creation and workforce participation, but cannot mandate results, especially by ethnic or racial composition,” an Empire State Development spokesman said. “That would be establishing quotas, which have been ruled unconstitutional.” So, while the minority hiring goal is being met overall, some community leaders and elected officials say the project’s workforce should better reflect the makeup of the city.   “If you said that you’re meeting the goals on minority participation and it’s a Buffalo project, people expect to see a larger number of African Americans,” said Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant. She said the low African-American workforce participation figure is “unacceptable.” 

 Mayor Byron Brown, who last month defended hiring practices at SolarCity on the grounds the project was meeting its overall 15 percent minority hiring goal, did not respond to an interview request. Paul Brown, of the Building Trades Council, said he expects more African Americans on the job for the duration of the project as other trades start work on the site. “It should increase tremendously, because you know there’s different trades on there now, there’s a lot of plumbers, electricians,” he said. 

Slow Start, Site Cleanup

The project is now exceeding its minority hiring goal, with minorities working 16 percent of hours through the end of August.  That comes after a slow start: minorities had worked only 8 percent of the hours worked on the project during the first eight months of work, through the end of December 2014. But, as more contractors started work, the share of hours worked by minorities gradually increased, reaching 15 percent for the project to date in May this year and holding steady since. 

One reason for the initial lag in diversity was the nature of the early work at the site, said LPCiminelli spokesperson Kevin Schuler. “On the earliest contracts, it was a small crew doing site work related to soil-testing and exploratory excavation,” he said. “For a good four to six months, that was all that was happening. The project only really kicked into gear in December.” 

Progress towards workforce goals is tracked by counting the hours worked by each individual, based on certified payroll. Empire State Development, the agency tasked with overseeing the project, also requires contractors to document, on a quarterly basis, the racial makeup of their workforce during that period. 

Those records offer a headcount and provide a breakdown of the participation of different minority groups, but do not take into account hours worked. Using these records, Investigative Post previously reported that minorities made up 6 percent of the construction workforce from the start of work in May 2014 through March 2015, based on the most up-to-date figures Empire State Development would release. State officials refused to provide more up-to-date records until the end of October. LPCiminelli officials subsequently provided a detailed, updated breakdown of the workforce, taking just a week to share figures that Empire State Development took about three months to release. 

Differences across contracts

Of the 16 contracts with more than 500 hours worked – the point at which Stephanie Pennington, LPCiminelli’s director of compliance, said she expects the goals to be met – 10 are meeting the 15 percent goal and six are not. Of those six, three were contracts performed early on in the project. Compliance with diversity goals is calculated as an average once the project is complete, so falling short in one month, or on one contract, doesn’t matter as long as the goals are met overall.

The updated numbers, however, have not mollified those who argue that the project should have retained the 25 percent minority hiring goal agreed on when the city sold the Riverbend site to the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office subsequently announced the goal in two press releases. 

The goal was later lowered to 15 percent in an agreement between the local construction unions and developer LPCiminelli. Empire State Development said in a statement that the 25 percent goal was simply “aspirational.” The change drew fierce criticism from African-American leaders, who in October rallied in protest of the SolarCity work site and have staged a series of community meetings since . 

Fisher and Grant created a group to advocate for greater diversity in construction jobs and to hold contractors accountable for diversity goals.  “There’s billions for Buffalo – but for whom?” Fisher said. “It can’t be just for a small circle of connected people. It’s got to be fair.” 

Investigative Post is a nonprofit investigative reporting center focused on issues of importance to Buffalo and Western New York. You can find its work at InvestigativePost.org, and through its partners, including WGRZ, The Public, WBFO and Capital Pressroom.


Solar City and Beyond: The Call to Action Continues!

Organizers of Solar City Protest Rally Announce Weekly Planning Meetings

ORGANIZE! ORGANIZERS OF LAST FRIDAY’S CALL TO ACTION AND PROTEST AT THE SOLAR CITY CONSTRUCTION SITE HAVE ANNOUNCED WEEKLY PLANNING MEETING TO BEGIN THIS THURSDAY.  THIRD EYE PHOTO

ORGANIZE! ORGANIZERS OF LAST FRIDAY’S CALL TO ACTION AND PROTEST AT THE SOLAR CITY CONSTRUCTION SITE HAVE ANNOUNCED WEEKLY PLANNING MEETING TO BEGIN THIS THURSDAY.  THIRD EYE PHOTO

Charley H. Fisher, president of B.U.I.L.D. of Buffalo organization and Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant have announced that they will host weekly strategy and planning meetings to address the lowering of the minority hiring goals at Solar City and other publicly funded construction projects in and around the City of Buffalo. 

These meetings will be held at either the newly named Buffalo Empowerment Center, 1327 Jefferson Ave. or across the street at the Frank E. Merriweather Library when it is available. The first meeting will be held on Thursday, October 15th, 6-8 p.m. the 1327 Jefferson Avenue address.

"I am extremely happy that a group of ten or more not for profit or activists' organizations from the east and west sides of Main Street have banded together to advocate for our Black and Brown 'brothers and sisters' who may be havingdifficulty in getting into an union apprenticeship training program or getting hired on the many construction sites and projects around the city," said Fisher.

These meetings are open to the public and former and present minority contractors, M/WBE's businesses and construction workers. Allare invited to attend these meeting to share insight and testimony regarding the lack of adequate ethnic diversity in the construction trade. For more information, contact Charley H. Fisher @ (716) 650-8889 or Betty Jean Grant @ (7160 602-5877.

The announcement of the weekly planning meetings come on the heels of last Friday’s protest and rally outside the Solar City Plant being built on South Park Avenue. The “Call to Action” was held after it was revealed that minority hiring goals were decreased from 25% to 15% without public notification or input. 

The rally for inclusion, fairness and jobs- which drew nearly 100 people – took place despite a press conference called by Mayor Brown, who shared data which said that minorities have done 16.2% of the work on the site from the start of construction in May 2014 through July of this year, “exceeding the workforce diversity targets” set for the $900 million solar panel factory. 

 When complete, Solar City will be the biggest solar panel plant in the Western Hemisphere when it reaches full production during early 2017. Amid chants of “No Justice No Peace” and “No Jobs, No Peace!”  demonstrators on Friday called on LP Ciminelli, the main contractor at Solar City, to raise the hiring goal to 25% for minorities.

Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant is calling for an independent monitor to keep track of whether minority and women hiring goals are being met at the construction site. At this point she said there is no outside monitor and “you can’t have the developer monitoring itself.”

The only thing needed on the East side, to quote the late Bill Gaiter, is jobs, jobs, jobs!” said one of several speakers at the rally, Rev. Kinzer Pointer oftheConcerned Clergy of WNY. Saying“you can’t play games with numbers” and referring to the poor minority hiring as “immoral, criminal and unjust,” he admonished. “Someone needs to tell the governor this is not acceptable!” 

John Washington, community organizer for PUSH BUFFALO, declaring that   “Buffalo is more segregated than Birmingham Alabama,”   said “we live in a racist city” and lamented how the Buffalo billions had been racially applied “I’m only 30 and I’m tired!”

“This is a crime scene…that’s being repeated all over the nation,” activist and radio personality Jim Anderson said in reference to the construction site. “We don’t need City Hall to sign a pledge of words…we need them to sign a pledge for jobs! We’re going to get some jobs or shut it down!” “In order for there to be peace there has to be justice,” Anderson continued. “Where there is not justice, there is no peace!”

Bishop Michael Badger, Pastor of Bethesda World Harvest International Church,  calledfor jobs,equityand quality education for our children. “It can’tbeONE BUFFALO if the East Side doesn’t have the same opportunities (as other areas).”  He called for an even greater minority hiring goal. “Governor we need you to establish goals of at least 30% on Solar City….Mayor, you don’t get a pass either. An economic roundtable does not give jobs!”

 Bishop Badger said this communitywas looking for Mayor Brown “to raise the goals” instead of saying its ok to drop the goals.