Group wants more construction jobs for minorities, women
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY - LaVonda Brown was about to mark a milestone on Oct. 25.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks, left, City Manager Wayne Cauthen, and Councilman Jim Glover listen to please to increase minority and women hiring in construction.
"When I go to the job site at 8 a.m., I will have worked for four straight months," Brown told a crowd of 732 people Oct. 24 at Zion Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
"I will have broken my record for the longest time on the job in five years," she said.
A drywall journeywoman, Brown said she started her career in construction - a career in which who you know is as important as what you know - with two strikes against her. She is a woman, and she is African-American.
The crowd who came to hear her and others press the city and the construction industry to make sure women and minority workers receive their share of the Kansas City construction boom were part of MORE2, a coalition of 13 Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations from both sides of the state line that includes Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) Parish in midtown Kansas City.
MORE2, an acronym for Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, drew its hundreds of members together to press city and industry officials for promises to increase training and construction job opportunities for minorities and women.
Coalition leaders noted that the city requires that all construction projects funded in whole or in part by public funds set aside 15 percent of jobs and contracts for minority-owned and women-owned contractors and subcontractors.
But the actual figures on minority and women construction hiring are hard to gather. That makes MORE2 suspect that the goals are not being achieved.
"If minority participation was good, we'd know about it," said the Rev. Heather Entrekin, pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kan.
As a result, said the Rev. Margaret Roberts, pastor of Swope Parkway Christian Church, minorities and women trying to break into construction in Kansas City are struggling and growing increasingly desperate for work in the middle of a building boom. She compared their plight to the recent natural disasters on the Gulf Coast.
"We have people drowning on dry land right here in Kansas City," she said.
MORE2 presented a five-point plan that it called the Jericho Table. The plan included ongoing negotiations between MORE2 and industry and civic leaders, and further research in cooperation with the industry to identify and remove barriers to the hiring of minorities and women in construction.
The plan won promises of cooperation that night from leading contractors to increase their efforts toward hiring minorities and women.
"Absolutely yes," said Augie Huber of A.L. Huber Contractors, noting that "our family has been building this city for more than 100 years."
"We are very supportive," said Steve Dunn of J.E. Dunn Construction. "Our company believes that if you enhance diversity, it's not only a good thing, it's the right way" to do business.
City Manager Wayne Cauthen urged MORE2 to stay involved on this issue.
"I am committed to the fact that you are behind us to see that we do the right thing," he said.
Bridget Williams of the Kansas City AFL-CIO urged the audience to be patient, but strong in pressing the issue of minority and women hiring in construction.
"This issue didn't start last night and we aren't going to get it done tomorrow," she said. "But positive things will happen."
Getting minorities and women hired is one problem, MORE2 pointed out. Another problem is providing public transportation to get new workers to the job site. It's a Catch-22, said Patricia Ingram, a member of Redemptorist Parish. You can't afford a car unless you have a job. And in sprawling Kansas City with only bus transportation, it's nearly impossible to get to a job unless you have a car.
Ingram said her son Cameron had to take three city buses for two hours to get to his welding classes at a community college. Now that he is an apprentice, his day starts at 6 a.m., when he takes a bus from 31st and Troost to downtown Kansas City, then has to hike across the Heart of America bridge to get to his job site in North Kansas City.
"Do you think we have a transportation problem in Kansas City?" she asked.
MORE2 scheduled another meeting for Dec. 8 at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church as both a follow-up, and a deeper discussion of the transportation issue.
Other members of the coalition include St. Stephen Baptist Church, Kansas City; Congregation Kol Ami, Prairie Village, Kan.; Community Christian Church, Kansas City; Country Club Christian Church, Kansas City; Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ, Kansas City; Greater Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Kansas City; St. Andrew Christian Church, Olathe, Kan., and Swope Parkway United Christian Church, Kansas City.