Yale tries to hire at least 25 percent New Haven residents to work on all of its building projects. But the University fell significantly short of that goal for the construction of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges.
New Haven activists have repeatedly called on Yale, the city’s top employer, to hire more residents from within city limits. But an average of just 51 of the approximately 440 workers on the job at the new colleges each day — or about 12 percent — were New Haven residents, according to Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor.
“Every single project, we do our very best to get at least 25 percent New Haven residents,” O’Connor said. “It doesn’t always work in some projects, which may require a lot of different types of skills and from different companies. I do know that we ask our construction people to do it.”
Ultimately, Yale’s contractors are responsible for hiring workers for construction projects. Dimeo Construction Company, the principal contractor overseeing the construction, deferred comments to Yale Facilities.
In a 2015 statement to the New Haven Independent, Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65 said the University includes its hiring goals in its contracts and confers regularly with contractors and union leaders to monitor the 25 percent goal.
But others in the city are not convinced that Yale has done everything it can to employ 25 percent New Haven residents on projects.
Joelle Fishman of the New Haven’s Peoples Center, a local social justice organization, said Yale’s hiring practices favor those with personal connections and fail to address the need for local hiring.
“Yale’s policy has not prioritized local hiring but, like other employers, has relied on the ‘old boy network’ of hiring based on who you know,” she said, adding that such a network is a manifestation of systemic racism.
She noted that Yale does not do enough to oversee the hiring decisions made by individual managers and that artificial and arbitrary requirements, like degree requirements, make it more difficult for some to find employment with the University. She emphasized how important it is for the health of the city’s economy that Yale increase the number of New Haven residents it hires and target neighborhoods with higher unemployment.
Board of Alders President and Local 35 Secretary-Treasurer Tyisha Walker said that the numbers alone reveal why people believe Yale struggles to hire New Haven residents.
Angel Fernandez-Chavero ’85, acting interim executive director for New Haven’s Commission on Equal Opportunities, said the scarcity of specialized construction workers within city limits may restrict an employer’s ability to meet its local hiring goals. For a project on the wrought iron gates at Yale, for example, the hiring agency may require a highly specialized metalsmith, he explained. But if few construction workers have such a skillset, he continued, the agency may receive no inquiries on the project.
“[Yale] buildings tend to be very specialized work on a very demanding time frame,” said New Haven’s Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson. “This is dangerous work, up high off the ground, specialized work like stone masons and doing finished carpentry. So the issue is it takes years to get people through apprenticeship programs and get companies ready to be qualified to get work on a Yale project.”
The 25 percent benchmark is not the only local hiring goal Yale has laid out since the University broke ground on the new colleges. In June 2015, Alexander said the University aimed to hire 500 New Haven residents over the following 24 months, 100 of whom would work on the University’s ongoing construction projects.
But local activists were not satisfied with the promise. Just days later, 1,000 demonstrators, bearing signs that read #HireThe500Now, took to the streets at a rally organized by the grassroots social justice group New Haven Rising. Organizers condemned the racial disparities evident in unemployment statistics in New Haven, where African American and Latino residents are more than twice as likely as white residents to be out of work. In a speech to the crowd, Walker questioned how many of the new hires would come from underprivileged areas of the city and demanded that Yale hire more residents than its promised 500.
And, in December 2015, after protesters called on Yale-New Haven Hospital to solve the city’s job crisis by providing opportunities for city residents, Yale pledged to double the number of New Haven hires from 500 to 1,000 over the next three years, with a focus on recruiting from neighborhoods with the highest unemployment and poverty rates.
As part of the 2015 target, Yale promised to hire, when possible, through New Haven Works, a program that connects Elm City residents with job opportunities.
Executive Director of New Haven Works Melissa Mason said representatives from her organization attended reporting meetings that were generally open to contractors and other groups during the construction process. And in January, New Haven Works began a construction pipeline to place individuals on various projects with contractors around the city. During the construction of the new colleges, though, the program was still being developed.
“In terms of the relationship with Yale, I would just say that Yale will be central to New Haven workers building connections with contractors going forward,” Mason said.
But Fishman added that the New Haven Works job pipeline is not robust enough to satisfy all demand for jobs in the city and suggested that Yale provide training for its own job offerings.
Unlike projects that receive funding from the city, Yale has no legal obligation to reach hiring minimums for its projects. For projects that receive such funding, hiring agencies must submit proof that they exerted maximum effort to reserve 25 percent of work hours on the projects for city residents. Fernandez-Chavero said he believes the University’s 25 percent goal was a symbolic gesture of support for this city policy.
New Haven law also requires that contractors accepting public aid hire 25 percent Hispanic and black construction workers, as well as 6.9 percent women. Fernandez-Chavero noted that race has been a historical challenge in the construction industry and that contractors, developers and unions have struggled to address these systemic inequalities.
Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges together occupy 6.7 acres of land.
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