Aug. 23, 2012

On August 22, 2012, a committee of the Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a resolution that acknowledges institutional racism and pushes Minneapolis to adopt tools to increase equity in employment. The decision means that the city of Minneapolis will now create and implement a racial equity assessment to analyze all of its budgets, policies and programs.

HIRE Minnesota helped fill the council chambers alongside other community leaders and public officials who stood together to support this measure. City staff spoke strongly about the need for the city to take a leadership role in ending racial disparities in Minneapolis. Karen Francois, Minneapolis director of employment equity, shared statistics showing that while 40 percent of Minneapolis residents are people of color, the city’s workforce is only 23 percent people of color.

Council Member Cam Gordon authored the resolution, with Council Member Don Samuels co-sponsoring. Council Member Gordon included a statement in the resolution that Minneapolis “will lead by example and better incorporate racial equity into all city policies and practices.” Council Member Samuels said that this must have an impact on the Native American and African American communities, as those are the groups facing the greatest employment disparities in Minneapolis.

Community members were also given an opportunity to provide comments. Shawn Lewis, who has been pushing for Minneapolis to be a leader on this issue, emphasized the importance of measuring a broad array of the city’s work, saying, “what gets measured is what gets done.” HIRE Minnesota leader Ralph Wyman brought up the need for transparency. “We’ve seen through our work with MnDOT and CCLRT that transparency works,” he said.

We applaud the passage of this resolution and we look forward to its full implementation in Minneapolis as we work together to move Minnesota from worst to first in racial employment equity.

May. 31, 2012

After months of negotiations, the state of Minnesota, the city of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Vikings have come to an agreement that will result in a $1 billion NFL stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

When talk of a new Vikings stadium began in early 2012, HIRE Minnesota began listening with interest. Our coalition members had different opinions on whether the stadium should be built, but we all shared one core value: that major public investments that create jobs need to benefit everyone in our state. As the debate unfolded, HIRE Minnesota noticed that there was lots of talk about job creation, but no talk about who would get those jobs. We set out to change that.

The result of our work was a Stadium Equity Plan, a plan that will guide all investment decisions for the new stadium and could result in thousands of jobs for people of color in Minneapolis. That’s a big deal in a town with the worst black-white employment disparities in the nation.

The debate continues about whether public funds should be used to subsidize private business in this way. Opinions will continue to diverge for some time as to whether this is lemonade from lemons, or a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Is it frosting on the cake, or lipstick on a pig? But there’s one thing everyone agrees on. The Stadium Equity Plan is vitally important. Here’s how it happened.

HIRE Minnesota welcomed 2012 by setting an ambitious goal for our state: to bring Minnesota from worst to first in racial equity in employment. We set out to talk to public officials, business leaders and community members about the critical need for us all to work together to close Minnesota’s employment gap. We wrote a piece published in the Downtown Journal that spelled out our stance: we must integrate strategies for reducing racial disparities into all of our development decision-making if we are ever to achieve employment equity in Minnesota.
Many leaders want to do something about it, but when big deals happen quickly, equity planning often gets left off the table. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen this time. As soon as the Minneapolis plan for the Vikings stadium was announced, HIRE Minnesota proactively contacted the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak, laying out key ideas we wanted to see in the city’s Vikings stadium proposal.

Council Members Cam Gordon, Robert Lilligren, John Quincy, Kevin Reich, Diane Hofstede, Meg Tuthill, Elizabeth Glidden and Betsy Hodges each took us up on our invitation for dialogue. Although not all of these council members endorsed the stadium, they each sent a letter to the mayor and City Council President Barbara Johnson, outlining their support for our four key goals:

  1. Increased hiring goals for construction jobs,
  2. hiring goals for the permanent jobs,
  3. reporting requirements from contractors and employers, and
  4. a permanent funding stream to train and place people of color into career paths.

The city council held a public hearing on April 24, and HIRE Minnesota attended along with leaders from the Northside Community Response Team. Tanisha Flowers gave wonderful testimony on our behalf, which got the attention of everyone in the room. Tanisha told the city council that she is neither for nor against the stadium, but that she is for racial equity in employment. Tanisha described the unacceptable racial disparities facing people of color in the Twin Cities, and she told the city council that we need “a long-term commitment to placing people in jobs with family-sustaining wages.”

All the while, HIRE Minnesota kept our state legislators informed of what we were doing. So, on a parallel track, they ensured that the state legislation contained strong equity principles that would support our work and the work of the city. Sen. Linda Higgins and Rep. Bobby Joe Champion were instrumental in ensuring strong language in the legislature. Sen. Higgins introduced a measure that forces the new stadium authority to contract with an agency to recruit, hire, and retain people of color on all jobs around the stadium. Rep. Champion, along with co-authors Reps. Mullery, Clark, and Moran, introduced the same measure in the House. The legislation laid the groundwork for what we were asking the city of Minneapolis to commit to if the city council chose to endorse the stadium deal.

After the legislation passed and was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, HIRE Minnesota stepped up our efforts at City Hall. It became increasingly clear that the way to get the city to move forward was through a process called a staff direction, where the city council passes a motion to direct city staff to take a particular action. One of our strongest allies, Council Member Glidden, took it upon herself to write a staff direction that would require city staff to start developing a Stadium Equity Plan to meet hiring goals, to ensure people of color had access to the permanent jobs, and to prioritize workforce development funding in future budgets.

Council Member Quincy walked the halls to get more support, and Council Member Don Samuels introduced the motion. “After the people on the bench, we have people being trained and people who need to be trained,” he said. “The best plan to end all gaps is a job.”

In the end, every city council member and the mayor supported the action. Council Member Quincy, who played an incredibly important role, described it as “an incredible step forward as we all recognize the importance of reducing disparities.”

“The impetus was that February letter,” he said. “We had differing views on the stadium but all agreed on one thing.”

As the Mayor put it, “It’s imperative that this project lift all workers in our community, especially those that have been left behind.”

As the motion passed unanimously, Council Vice President Lilligren called on his fellow council members to be as present as possible in moving this work forward, and noted that it’s not just enough to set the goals. The real work, he said, is in meeting the goals.

The members and leaders involved in HIRE Minnesota played a key role in making equity one of the central pillars that the Vikings stadium will be built upon. Council Member Hodges thanked us for our persistence in making this happen, and Council Member Glidden said that we drove the dialogue and that our leadership set the stage for this accomplishment.

We did this together. All of us, carrying all of our varying perspectives, came together to make this deal more equitable. That’s a victory in and of itself, and it’s an essential component of what needs to continue to happen moving forward. Moving Minneapolis from worst to first in hiring equity requires all of our energies, talents and perspectives. We’ll be there every step of the way, and we hope you’ll be there with us.

Mar. 22, 2012

Yesterday, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced a significant increase in its workforce inclusion goals for people of color on state construction projects. The new goals are 32 percent for Hennepin and Ramsey Counties and 22 percent for the rest of the region. The previous goal was 11 percent. These increased goals demonstrate a commitment from the state of Minnesota to remedying our region’s unacceptable racial employment disparities.

By raising awareness of the critical importance of racial employment equity in Minnesota, our powerful coalition played a major role in making this happen.

With MnDOT failing to meet its goals, we showed up and made sure they more than doubled the number of people of color working on state construction projects. When the Minnesota Department of Human Rights faced budget cuts that threatened its mission, we stepped in and helped preserve their funding.

Now, the Department of Human Rights has proven to be a strong ally for racial employment equity in Minnesota. HIRE Minnesota applauds MDHR for its commitment to Minnesota’s diverse construction workforce and to the economic health of the entire Twin Cities region.

HIRE Minnesota recognizes that setting a goal is only a first step toward achieving representational participation on state construction projects – but it’s an important first step. Experience shows that goals can matter, especially when there is community of people like us planning for and supporting strong implementation efforts. The Central Corridor LRT and Target Field projects are prime examples of how workforce goals can be met – and even exceeded – when all players are committed to the same goal.

In order to maintain our economic competitiveness, every employer in our state must play a role in remedying our racial employment disparities. With these new goals, the state of Minnesota takes a welcome and overdue step toward putting all Minnesotans to work.

Mar. 12, 2012

For 16 years, the Minnesota Department of Transportation had set goals for hiring women and people of color on state construction projects. And for 16 years, it had failed to meet those goals.

That was back in 2009, when HIRE Minnesota began challenging the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to reverse this alarming trend. Initially met with significant resistance, HIRE brought hundreds of people to the MnDOT headquarters to challenge leadership’s commitment to its goals. When we were told the commissioner could not speak with us, we demanded meetings. When we didn’t see progress in the numbers despite our pressure, we showed up at construction sites to put contractors on notice. At the end of the summer that year, we held a funeral on MnDOT’s front lawn, mourning the loss of another construction season.

With public attention to the issue on the rise,  MnDOT created “The Collaborative,” a group of organizations and MnDOT staff committed to improving MnDOT’s civil rights program.  HIRE Minnesota took leadership of a committee charged with increasing accountability and transparency on workforce issues.

“Two years ago, community groups didn’t have a seat at the table at MnDOT,” said HIRE Minnesota founder and Summit Academy OIC President Louis King. “Now we not only have seats, we’re driving most of the conversation. That’s the difference HIRE Minnesota has made.”

We were able to negotiate significant improvements in MnDOT’s hiring and contracting procedures that will help ensure more women and people of color receive jobs in future construction seasons.

So far, the numbers are moving in the right direction. While the goals have still not been met, the number of women and people of color hired on construction projects has increased by 135 percent since 2009 — that’s 239 more jobs!

Aug. 1, 2011

In 2011, the Minnesota Legislature proposed a bill that would have cut the Minnesota Department of Human Rights budget by 65 percent, a much larger cut than any other state department would have received. Why, you ask? Was the department budget  full of bloated salaries for do-nothing bureaucrats?

Actually, the department’s was lean, having gradually been reduced over the years. MDHR was suffering a severe backlog in its caseload, and staff estimated that the budget cuts would triple the average time to resolve a case. Even worse, the legislature also proposed policy changes that would eliminate MDHR’s ability to help businesses proactively diversify their workforce and to hold state contractors accountable to the state’s equal opportunity laws. It seemed that the budget proposal was really about undercutting MDHR’s ability to do its job: protecting Minnesotans from discrimination.

MDHR is vitally important to ending disparities in Minnesota.  The agency investigates claims of discrimination, monitors contract compliance for all state contractors, and conducts outreach and education to citizens and businesses. Particularly important to HIRE Minnesota, MDHR monitors the minority and female workforce goals for state contractors.  Without MDHR, HIRE Minnesota’s work to hold those contractors accountable would become much more difficult.

HIRE Minnesota held a public action at the state Capitol, presenting Gov. Mark Dayton with a letter signed by dozens of partner organizations and community leaders, asking him to stand firm in his commitment to fully fund MDHR. We also held a community meeting to raise awareness of this issue, which otherwise might have been obscured by a potential state shutdown if a budget deal was not reached.

Emboldened by our support, Gov. Dayton vetoed the omnibus public safety bill containing the massive cut to MDHR. In his response to the legislature, he provided a powerful statement about the importance of MDHR’s work: “The proposed 65 percent cut to the Department of Human rights is by far the worst to any agency, and it would eviscerate our ability to investigate human rights violations…(The legislature’s) extreme cut in funding, along with your policy language, would weaken the Human Rights Act and lessen the effectiveness of the Department of Human Rights. This I will not allow.”

Although it ultimately did take a government shutdown to resolve the budget crisis, HIRE Minnesota prevailed. In the final budget, MDHR received a 5 percent cut, in line with all other agencies, and its core functions were preserved. Without the organizing and advocacy of HIRE Minnesota, this issue may have gone unnoticed, and our state may have lost its only agency charged with eliminating discrimination.