Former Cong. Gary Franks

By Former Cong. Gary Franks

I applaud the plan to hire 100,000 minorities by 2030 by the New York Jobs CEO Council, which features firms, banks and tech companies. It is a good start. They are showing both an understanding and willingness to help America with one of its cruelest forms of unfairness: employment. The major corporations and the federal government must lead the way to eliminate any racial injustices in opportunities, especially when they violate long standing civil rights laws.

History would show that post slavery, the government sanction and de facto restrictions on Black employment was sinister, hateful and disruptive. It played a major role in the separation of families and the incessant placement of Blacks in the lower class, often in or near poverty. This resulted in people looking for alternative means of providing for their families, even gang and crime activity.

Today, no job is prohibited to Black Americans, yet I challenge you, reader, to look at how many Black supervisors, managers, directors and vice presidents you have seen in your lifetime. The trick has always been to showcase a handful of special “token” Blacks so you would have the appearance that the company was practicing good employment policies. 

Employment audits are needed to assess employment practices in hiring, promotions, retention, and compensation to determine if there are any racial disparities. The intent is fairness. There are many companies that are stellar in this regard, while others have work to do. This does take effort. It is always easier to stick with what you know, go with the easy choice. The use of monetary consideration in pay or bonuses can quickly alter bad behavior.

On the federal government side, we must have the monitoring and enforcement of civil rights laws. Far too often, however, when brought to the attention of people in authority, the benevolent advocates for fairness are often dismissed. 

 Congress and other federal government officials have been informed that many of the electric companies do not measure up regarding their aforementioned employment practices toward Blacks and Hispanics and could be discriminating against them while receiving federal funds. This would be a direct violation of the civil rights laws. 

The only thing worse than systemic unfairness would be an industry able to benefit off the backs of the poor, who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic, while failing to apply fair employment practices at all levels of their organization. The Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federal government program that I had championed while a member of Congress in the 1990s. It truly was a Godsend for many families in my Connecticut congressional district. Without it, many indigent people would not be able to keep the lights or heat on during the winter. The electric companies get reimbursed by LIHEAP for the cost of allowing the poor to have heat and lights. Nearly $4 billion annually is allocated nationwide for this program. Ironically, the creation of more displaced workers and poor people would mean more revenue for the electric companies. 

 Major corporations like those that are part of the NY Jobs CEO Council should continue to lead the way and be examples for others to follow  while the federal government should force those who have not gotten the message about racial justice and fairness a stern wake up call.

Gary Franks served as the U.S. representative for Connecticut’s 5th District from 1991 to 1997. He was the first Black Republican elected to the House in nearly 60 years, and is New England’s first Black member of the House. He is host of the podcast “We Speak Frankly.” Follow him @GaryFranks.