A coalition of churches, community groups and labor organizations committed to ensure that District residents receive their fair share of construction jobs in the District has filed a claim with the D.C. Human Rights against one of the largest contractors in the District, alleging discriminatory hiring practices.

According to the claim filed Jan. 28, by DC Jobs or Else, a group of Black men was sent by the organization to a Clark construction site called the CityCenterDC project located at 9th and K Streets NW to fill out applications for jobs. Latinos were allowed to fill out applications while Blacks were told there were no jobs. Weeks later, at the same site, Blacks were allowed to fill out applications that would be on file for two weeks only.

Although more than 100 Black applicants filled out applications, none was called for employment, according to the complaint, while Latinos who were friends of the organization continued to be hired.

“We have told the Mayor, the Council, the churches and the community about Clark’s poor track record of hiring DC residents. We will continue to voice our complaints about Clark’s hiring practices until it does the right thing. We will do whatever it takes even if that means being arrested.” said the Rev. George Gilbert Jr.

Fourteen of the applicants have filed complaints with the D.C. Office of Human Rights alleging Clark discriminated against them because of race.

Bethesda-based Clark Construction is a multi-billion dollar firm and one of, if not the dominant construction contractor in the Washington, D.C. area.

“We will do all we can to let Clark and other companies who discriminate against our people know that we are not sitting on the sidelines to see who will win, but we are putting our shoulder pads and helmets on to help fight on the field,” Gilbert said.

“Clark has profited enough from the District. Its deplorable track record of hiring African Americans and DC residents needs to be called out. Time has come for Clark to be held responsible.”

“Since the CityCenterDC project started in late March 2011, of the project’s new hires, 53percent are D.C. residents. There are currently 118 Washington, D.C. residents working on-site. At City Market at O, which started in November 2011, 50 percent of all new hires are D.C. residents. Both projects are in their early stages and the opportunities for hiring will increase as work progresses,” Brian Abt, president and CEO, Mid-Atlantic Region of Clark Construction Group, LLC, said in a March 15 statement.

“As we have successfully done on other D.C. projects, we are partnering with the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) and Goodwill Industries to develop employment opportunities for D.C. residents.”

Gilbert said that Clark’s statement did not indicate whether it had actually received an application from and hired any individual referred to it by those organizations.

Further, he said, in regard to the City Market project, Clark had been telling potential job applicants that they had to apply for work through DOES, but DOES, told the applicants it had no relationship with Clark with regard to hiring on that project.

David Thompson, public information officer for DOES said it has been working with all contractors to provide the necessary required data to the District to determine if laws are being followed. He said the current apprenticeship law requires 35 percent of apprentice hours be satisfied by D.C. residents. It is being replaced by stronger regulations.

“The new First Source Law requires each construction project receiving government assistance totaling $5 million or more to have the following percentage of DC residents on those projects; 20 percent of journey worker hours, 60percent of apprentice hours, 51 percent of skilled laborer hours and 70 percent of common laborer hours.

In addition, the new First Source Law adds additional monthly reporting requirements for contractors working on projects valued between $300 thousand and $5 million.

Employers must report;
• the number of employees who worked on the project,
• current employees transferred,
• new job openings created,
• job openings created by employee attrition,
• job openings listed with the DOES,
• total monthly direct and indirect labor costs associated with the project or contract,
• District residents hired for the reporting period,
• cumulative total of District residents hired and
• each employee’s name, social security number, job title, hire date, residence, and referral source for all new hires.

But claimants said one apparent problem has not been addressed.

“There is no requirement to require contractors to include the race and ethnicity of its workers in its certified payroll reports to the government. Therefore, a contractor can claim that it hires DC residents with full knowledge that it is discriminating against one group of residents over another,” said Eric Carter Bey, one of the claimants in an interview.

According to the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership, there are more than 500 commercial construction projects, between, 2005 and 2015, registered with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). While many African Americans are seeking employment in the construction industry, billions of dollars are pouring into the District yet according to Census monthly statistical reports, Blacks continue to have the highest unemployment rate.

While DC Jobs or Else waits for a determination by the commission, it continues to organize African Americans and other District residents who desire jobs in the construction industry and plans several demonstrations, filming of crews and organized application efforts in the near future.

“Remember how Blacks were sent into restaurants to be waited on and were not served or when we applied for housing and were told that none was available? This is the same premise. Racism has not changed and we don’t care if politicians are being paid to look the other way,” said Martin Sampson, a journeyman brick mason, who claims he will join the complaint if it becomes a class action.

Gilbert said, “The refusal to hire Blacks sends a signal that these jobs are for Whites and Latinos only. It’s Jim Crow all over again. It’s just not right.”

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO