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Louis King, the veteran job-training executive, is starting to see results from his three-year, demonstration-to-boardroom campaign to raise the percentage of minority laborers on government-financed road, stadium and other public works projects.
King hammered out an agreement with Mortenson Construction that led to a minority-hiring surge that equaled about a quarter of the workers and trainees hired by subcontractors at the new Minnesota Twins ballpark and TCF Bank Stadium. Stock Roofing, which just completed the "green roof" on the city-owned Target Center, hired 30 graduates of King's Summit Academy OIC.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has committed to work with winning contractors and trade unions to increase the percentage of people of color working on its road-and-transit projects to above 6 percent.
And Summit Academy, a north Minneapolis-based vocational-training institute, has reached agreement with Local 49, the heavy-equipment operators on road projects, to build and diversify their membership, as well as new partnerships with other unions.
When King learned last summer that MnDOT contractors were lagging on minority hiring amid a boom in federal funding, he stepped up job-site demonstrations and appearances before legislative committees and TV cameras.
"MnDOT's first reaction was, 'Go away,'" King recalled. "We were respectful, but our people went to the Capitol and legislative hearings and took the chairs of some of the usual lobbyists and made our point. It was a 'set game.' The contractors could just engage in 'good-faith' efforts to find minority workers ... and just move on. These agreements we are reaching are bigger than Summit. It's about the system. And we're making the investment in change."
MnDOT hiring goals call for between 3 and 11 percent of a project's workforce to be people of color. However, in the metropolitan area, where the minority population approaches 20 percent, it has agreed to step up its efforts, expand on-the-job training and quantify results in regular public reports.
"We were within federal law but we wanted to do better," said Bernie Arsenau, MnDOT's director of policy and strategic initiatives. "Louis committed to our collaborative last September and played an incredible role with the unions, the training organizations and getting everybody to buy in.'' At the Twins stadium, contractors working for Mortenson Construction reported that one-quarter of the work hours were put in by minorities.
"Louis has passion and he's doing the right thing," said Ken Sorenson, Mortenson's top Twin Cities executive, who negotiated the minority-hiring deal with King. "He can be very direct, but we have a good relationship and he did what he said. He has raised the bar for participation levels."
Hard work 'all paid off'
King also has built hiring relationships with Thor Construction, Stock Roofing and Veit Construction, as well as the Twin Cities locals of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Laborers, Carpenters and Joiners and Operating Engineers.
"All that hard work in the classroom, in the field, it all paid off," said Summit graduate Lashawn Wright, a construction worker who helped build the Twins stadium. "Summit Academy ... gave me the knowledge I needed to succeed and become a better man."
King, 50, a former Army artillery officer who bans sagging pants, hats and expletives from the halls of Summit Academy, is comfortable with a bullhorn or quiet negotiations. He wasn't looking for trouble, but he was exasperated when Summit students weren't getting many jobs. And that was before the recession hit.
"We took on the fight," King said. "Once we were invited to the negotiating table, I took off my battle uniform and put on a suit. We listen, we compromise and we are respectful. And we have made progress."
Steve Cramer, the Hennepin County-appointed chairman of the ballpark authority, commended King and Mortenson for eventually hitting aggressive hiring goals on the county-financed stadium that came in on time and on budget.
Summit Academy is the offspring of the old Twin Cities Opportunities Industrialization Center, a network of trade schools set up in inner cities across America in response to urban joblessness and unrest.
King took command more than a decade ago and merged his construction-training nonprofit while narrowing the focus of Summit to training for careers in the building trades and health care.
In recent years, Summit has tailored its construction training to include weatherization for old buildings and new "green building" construction.
About three-quarters of Summit's 450 students are adults who have failed to complete high school or are rebounding from the criminal justice system, chemical dependency or who just lack the training and soft skills to land a job or manage their lives.
In 2009, Summit placed 120 of its 165 graduates in jobs that averaged $15 per hour. Students attend classes that range from basic budgeting and personal finance to word processing and carpentry. It also partners with Minneapolis Community and Technical College and Dunwoody Institute.
King, who was paid $164,000 according to Summit's 2008 tax return, oversees a $4.1 million operation, about $2.8 million of which is generated by government training grants and contracts. The rest is raised from rental income from tenants who lease space from Summit and about $1 million in annual contributions from individual and corporate donors.
This spring, Summit is expanding to St. Paul to fill a vocational-training void due to the recent closing of East Metro OIC and the elimination of a job-training program at the St. Paul Urban League and WomenVenture.
King, a graduate of Atlanta's elite, historically black Morehouse College, is a big believer in symbols, declarative language and behavior that matches the words.
"Morehouse and the Army show how to take a boy, give him a skill set, a value system an identity and a unit," King said. "And the core of what we are doing here at Summit, our unit, is building men and women who can build careers, families and communities."
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • firstname.lastname@example.org