Minorities Frozen out of City Jobs in Worcester
Thursday, June 14, 2012
According to the most recent survey from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there were there are in excess of 1,400 white employees and only 150 Latino and African-American workers in 2011, when all full- and part-time employees were counted.
The departments of community development, planning and zoning were 98 percent white in their composition, according to the report. At the fire department, the news was not much better, where 92 percent of all fire department personnel are white. Of more than 400 fire personnel, there were just 11 African-Americans and 17 Hispanics and more than 370 white employees.
The Natural Resources department, which includes parks and recreation, had 53 full- and part-time employees. Of them 48 were white, none were African-American and only four were Latino or Hispanic, making th department ninety-one percent white.
The problem is alarming enough that activists and officials are banging the drum loudly for a response from city hall.
City Lags Behind
“It’s clear as to where we are,” District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera, who is Latina, said. “Yes, the city is behind the times when it comes to hiring minorities.”
Rivera has been among the most vocal city officials calling for greater equality in hiring. She has pushed City Manager Michael O’Brien and others to look at similarly-sized cities and towns and take stock of the disparity in a city that, in recent years, has become more and more a melting pot for people of all ethnicities. Yet the numbers show those people aren’t getting jobs on the city payroll.
Neither O’Brien nor Sulma Rubert-Silva, the city's Equal Employment Opportunity Officer, could be reached for comment on this story, but elected officials like Rivera are making sure the issue is front and center on the city’s radar.
A Chance to Move Ahead
“We can continue to make the same mistakes or take this as a learning opportunity and do things differently,” Rivera said, noting the city, which has not had a wave of new hires in several years, is getting ready to hire in some departments. The city manager’s office is in the process of hiring a deputy city manager, hiring a new class of police recuits and hiring is expected in the Office of Economic Development. O’Brien recently vowed to put together a plan to address the hiring of more minorities.
“I’m really going to be interested in seeing how things move forward,” said Rivera, adding she is “optimistic.”
Not everyone shares Rivera’s optimism. Ravi Perry, an assistant professor of Political Science and director of Ethnic Studies at Clark University as well as a contributor to GoLocalWorcester, sees no need to waste time.
City Manager’s Decision
“There is no plan needed,” Perry said. “The problem with discussing a plan is that it ignores the fact that diversity of city hires lies squarely in the hands of the city manager. He could direct his department heads that for every job advertised, that one of the three finalists should be of color and qualified, of course. That goes without saying.”
Perry said while discussion of the issue is good, “They’re not addressing what has happened in the past when the city had the opportunity to hire persons of color that were qualified and did not.”
For community activist and former gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross, the statistics reflect a long-festering problem that pervaded the city's hiring practices. And when there is progress, according to Ross, it can be fleeting.
“It disturbs me,” Ross said of the report. “I’m not sure whether it surprises me or not. We have a Latino district councilor – one. And those positions get replaced every two years.”
Ross said the issue is not confined to city hall - indeed not to just Worcester. But she singled out the city's school department, saying, “There has been a recurring call for dealing with the hiring of more teachers of color. There was a task force a while back that was formed to deal with it. What was found was that the city’s hiring schedule, when they figured out they needed to hire teachers, it’s very late in the cycle. It’s set up so they’re not likely to get many teachers of color to apply”
Global Vision Needed
At-Large Councilor and District 15 Democratic state representative candidate Kate Toomey says the city needs to be far-reaching in its attempts to hire new employees.
“I’m not sure we have to hire a certain number of minorities,” said Toomey, “but our reach has not been as global as we think. I think we need to be better at trying to reflect the citizenry of Worcester. It is an incredibly diverse community.”
The latest Census data shows that 20.9 percent of Worcester residents are Hispanic or Latino, 11.6 percent are black, 6.1 percent are Asian and almost 5 percent are of another race other than white. Toomey said attracting a more diverse pool of applicants is not a difficult challenge, saying: “I just think what we need to do is look at how we our information out about the positions available.”
A Complex Issue
At-Large Councilor and former Mayor Konstantina Lukes, on the other hand, doesn’t see an easy solution.
“The answers to the city’s lack of minority employees are so complex,” said Lukes. “It starts with the educational system all the way up to getting people prepared for these jobs. There may be a cultural component. We need to look at who’s doing the hiring. Who’s doing the training? Who’s providing the incentives or encouragement? Are … minorities being treated differently? The problem is attitudinal as much as anything else.”
Worcester has an affirmative action policy that states, in part, “It is the policy of the City of Worcester to ensure non-discrimination in all its employment decisions.” The policy goes on to state: “An objective of the City of Worcester is to become the civic leader in programs, permanent jobs and activities which enhance equal employment opportunities, as well as awareness and sensitivity to the minority, women, disabled, veterans and newcomers, and all other protected groups.”
For many observers, however, the proof is in the pudding.
“Here’s the issue,” said Ross. “We need to decide whether we want a fractured community or not. It’s not rocket science. People tend to be more responsive when dealing with folks that share their cultures. If we want a workforce that ‘gets it,’ it has to be representative of those communities. There are models out there that work. Obviously, Worcester has not managed to adopt those models. We’re supposed to be a (welcoming) city. Is that part of our values or not?”
- Council Upset Over Lack of Diversity at City Hall
- Ravi Perry: Worcester’s Embarrassing Lack of Diversity in the Workforce
- Protest at City Hall Challenges Racial Profiling and Accountability
- Grace Ross: It Is Time to Talk About Race