Affirmative Action in the Construction Industry
By Brooks Gentleman | Posted: 06/13/2013 2:54PM
I was following news reports recently discussing the life of Medgar Evers who was assassinated 50 years ago this week while he served as the field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi. The airport in Jackson now carries his name to honor this courageous man who gave his life in the pursuit of equal rights. Former President Clinton was quoted last week as saying, “The next time you hear people complaining around Washington about what a rough business democracy is, we might do well to remember what it was like 50 years ago, and the sacrifices that were made.”
This made me think about how far we have come in integrating the construction industry over the past five decades. It also made me reflect upon the affirmative action programs that are still used on many governmental construction projects. These programs were devised many years ago to level the playing field for groups who suffered from our nation’s discrimination of the past. Although I think that affirmative action has served a good purpose in the past to provide a needed boost for diversity, I submit that it is now time to move on. Affirmative action in the construction industry adds little to no value and costs the industry millions of dollars a year.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims that affirmative action is needed now more than ever because avenues of opportunity for those previously excluded remain far too narrow. I agree with the ACLU that when you have an unemployment rate of 13.5% for African Americans and 9.1% for Hispanic or Latinos compared to a 6.7% rate for whites, there is still a problem. I do not agree that the solution to racial employment challenges resides in the implementation of a quota-based affirmative action plan. In fact, the negative effects of such plans far outweigh the positive implications.
Affirmative action in the construction industry causes the following problems:
1. Affirmative action programs have a tendency to put unqualified personnel and companies into positions of responsibility before they are ready. It isn’t good for anyone, including the recipient of the job, to be thrust into work that is beyond their skill set. I have worked with minority subcontractors in the past who didn’t have the management skills, administrative support, or financing to meet the demands of the project. They ended up losing money and struggling to survive after getting over extended.
2. Quota-based programs drive the selection of the work to meet certain minority or gender-based criteria rather than selecting the best solution for the project. Under typical conditions, the construction team would award a contract to the lowest cost option that can meet the scope of work, schedule, and financial demands. I have seen more expensive proposals selected just to meet Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) or Women Business Enterprise (WBE) quotas. I have also been forced to award contracts to inferior bidders in order to meet established affirmative action guidelines. I think we are now in an era where the best qualified companies should be selected to participate regardless of race, gender, or religious affiliation.
About the Author
Brooks GentlemanBrooks Gentleman has been in the wood window and architectural millwork business for the past 25 years and is currently the owner of Re-View, a manufacturer of custom wood window replicas for historic landmarks across the country based in Kansas City, MO. www.re-view.biz