Leaders from several Minnesota NAACP chapters criticized the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) on Thursday for falling short of minority hiring goals in construction contracts issued by the agency.
Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul NAACP, noted that based on MnDOT’s own reporting to the federal government the number of minorities hired for construction projects declined from 2013 to 2014.
Out of a construction workforce of nearly 3,500 on publicly funded road projects last year, only 315 were members of minorities. That falls short of MnDOT’s own goals for minority hiring, which the agency has previously publicly acknowledged.
“We have a workforce of people waiting to be hired,” Martin said at a State Capitol news conference. “There seems to be a belief that there isn’t a pool of available qualified workers, and our belief is that in actual fact there is.”
Overall, MnDOT has set an annual goal that 10.3 percent of its federally funded construction contracts go to what are known as “disadvantaged business enterprise” firms, or DBEs. For the 12-month period ending last Sept. 30, the agency fell short by half a percent, with 9.8 percent of its contracts going to DBEs.
That accounted for $76 million in contracts and subcontracts. “We are committed to improving the numbers of contracts and awards to minority firms and will continue to work in this area,” MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle said in December, in announcing the agency had fallen short.
MnDOT has an Office of Civil Rights that’s charged with monitoring and reporting on minority-owned firms and trying to encourage their greater participation in bidding for state contracts.
A MnDOT spokesman did not respond to a call Thursday seeking further comment.
Zelle said in December that the agency would continue to develop initiatives that would increase construction contract opportunities for minority-owned businesses.
In addition, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has set goals for all state construction contracts related to minority hiring.
The goals are highest in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, at 32 percent, while the other five Twin Cities counties are 22 percent. The goals are in the single digits in the rest of the state.
The NAACP said MnDOT also has fallen far short of those goals.
“It is not unusual for people in communities of color to ask, ‘Why don’t they see more people of color working on road construction projects?’ ” said Mel Reeves, a community activist.
“If Minnesota wants to shed its growing reputation as a state known for its unequal treatment of its citizens of color, it should work to level the playing field.”