The federal government has agreed to restructure and morestrictly enforce a massive plan to increase the participation of minority workers on federal construction projects in the Washington area.
The Washington Area Constructon Industry Task Force had charged in a suit that the "Washington Plan" to increase minority hiring on federal building projects had not been enforced since it was drawn up in 1970. Without agreeing or disagreeing with those charges, the Department of Labor signed a decree promising to set new hiring goals and to act to make certain that they are met.
Six years after the Washington Plan was created, only 52 percent of the federal contracts covered by it were in compliance and little, if anything, had been done to force contractors to comply, according to court-records. Of the 11 construction trades affected, only one had met its goals, the documents stated.
The head of the Washington Area Construction Industry Task Force said yesterday that a survey conducted last year showed that if the plan had been properly enforced at that time, an additional 2,000 minority employes could have had jobs averaging $15,000 each.
"That's what I'm hoping to see over the next few months", Lavell Merritt, president of the task force, said. He and the attorneys involved in the suit, which was filed by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, described the Labor Department agreement as a significant step toward increased minority participation in the building industry here.
In addition, persons involved in the ease said it could have nationwide impact because of the apparent willingness by the Labor Department to more strictly enforce the hiring of minority construction workers.
In the Washington area alone, Merritt said," I would hope as the Department of Labor moves to review the 500 plus contracts under this plan, we would begin to see an immediate increase in the use of minorities."
The plan affects the hiring policies of every contractor and subcontractor of more than $10,000. In addition, the plan covers private construction projects being built by federal contractors or subcontractors.
One industry source estimated that 75 to 80 percent of the private contractors in the Washington area are involved in such projects and therefore covered by the plan.
The consent agreement signed by U.S. District Senior Judge Howard F. Corcoran calls for new hiring goals to be adopted by Dec. 1. Those goals must reflect the percentage of the minority work force in the Washington metropolitan area, which has been estimated to be 26 percent.
It also suggests that the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs must "seriously consider" extending minority goals beyond the 11 crafts now covered by the plan.
In the court signed by Corcoran, the Labor Department agreed to place two full-time staff members (instead of one part-time staff member as is now the case) on the Washington Plan, and to establish a Washington office to enforce the plan. It is currently administered out of Philadelphia.
The government also agreed to computerizeits information and reorganize its contract-monitoring offices into one central location. The agreement also requires detailed regular reports on the monitoring of the plan's enforcement and provides for access to government documents by task force representatives.
The suit in which the agreement was entered came about in early 1977, when it was filed by two skilled black construction workers who claimed they had been unable to get jobs despite repeated attempts to find work on federal projects. They filed it also on behalf of all minority workers in the trades covered by the Washington Plan and estimated there were probably 4,000 such persons.
The complaint followed by a year and a half a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that found the plan and its objectives were not being enforced.
Attorneys C. Boyden Gray of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering and Charles E. Hill of the Institute for Public Interest Representation said in court documents that the situation, which they supported with percentages and figures, amounted to "wholesale noncompliance with the goals of the plan".
The attorneys said, for example, that in 1976 four of the 21 contracts involving the Department of Health, Education and Welfare were in compliance, five of the 24 contracts involving the Environmental Projection Agency were in copliance and five of 28 Defense Department contracts were in compliance.
One of the individual plaintiffs, William C. Pollack of Washington, a sheet metal worker, said he had obtained work on some federal projects the minority hiring goals were clearly not being met. At other times, Pollack said, he could not find work at all on federal projects even though he was one of only 15 to 40 black union journeyman sheet metal workers in the area.
The otherplaintiff, Carey F. Pearson of Washington, is a qualified journey lather . . He said he had regularly sought employment on federal projects but has had to settle for lower-paying, nonunion jobs.
He said most federal lathing work in the D.C. area is done by large contractors who hire only union workers, and the unions impose high finiancial burdens - such as apprenticeship requirements and permit fees - on those seeking union work. He said he knew of no federal action to "overcome these obstacles" to getting lathing jobs on federal projects.
Lawyers involved in the federal case said a similar suit is pending against the District government in D.C. Superior Court.
The task force is a coalition of local civil rights organizations, community groups, contractors and individuals, including the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the United Planning Organization, the Metropolitian Contractors Association, the Washington Urban League, the D.C. Chapter of the NAACP and the 14th Street and Shaw Project Area Committees.