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Rox meeting addresses jobs at Ferdinand site

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO

Local workers seeking jobs jammed a recent Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force meeting to hear about the schedule and construction job opportunities for the Ferdinand project. They came away with a job forecast, but few guarantees and no immediate prospects for the $115 million project slated to start in spring of 2012.

Joe Mulligan, deputy director of capital construction at the city’s Property and Construction Management Department (PCM), presented a timeline of construction activity and associated trades for each phase of the Ferdinand project.

In 2012, the early stages of the project include temporary and permanent stabilization of the historic facade, site preparation and foundation work. During that time there will likely be demand for laborers, ironworkers, welders, carpenters and operators.

The major construction at the Ferdinand site is scheduled to start in early 2013 and last well into 2014. Retail build-out also gets underway in 2014, along with sidewalk, landscaping, security, telephone and IT tasks. During 2013-14, trades in demand will include not only laborers and carpenters, but plumbers, electricians, masons, metal and sheet metal workers, painters and specialists in HVAC, flooring, glazing, tile and sprinklers.

When Mulligan moved on to talk about actually getting jobs, the meeting heated up some. He mentioned that a walk-in application trailer would be on the site. This had been a successful feature of the Area B-2 Police Station project, he said. But when he asked who in the room had worked on that project, no hands went up.

“It doesn’t work!” shouted one attendee.

“It’s not perfect, but it works,” argued Mulligan. “You have to come with a skill set.”

During the question and answer period, the man who had shouted out said he has 30 years of experience in a trade, has licenses and OSHA card and the like -— but still didn’t get hired. “They tell me to be proactive. But after I call a few times, they start saying, what are you bothering me for?” he complained.

Mulligan called on Clyde Thomas to address the question. Thomas was the community liaison who gave out applications at the walk-in trailer on the B-2 site.

“We give them the applications we have. But we can’t force them,” Thomas said. This generated more frustration in the room. Some called loudly that the city should stop working with contractors that won’t hire local minority workers.

Brooke Woodson, director of the city’s Small and Local Business Enterprise (SLBE) Office, affirmed the city’s commitment to minority and local hiring.

“The city does take these goals seriously,” he said. “We do enforce them. It doesn’t mean everyone gets a job all the time, but we’re doing all that we can to effectuate that.

“One of the things I heard before the B-2 project was, ‘It’s too late now. The contracts have been given out,’ ” he continued. “We want you to inform you earlier this time. We’re here to move forward.”

The last presenter was Roxbury Resource Center Director Alan Gentle. He spoke briefly about the Center’s career resource library, career workshops, and monthly industry briefings and job fairs. The Boston Housing Authority will be there Nov. 14 recruiting for pre-apprenticeship programs, he noted.

During the question period, some skepticism was expressed, but also ideas and recommendations.

One attendee suggested a flow chart that shows where people can enter the job pool. “And if you don’t get the job, it would show where to go next,” he said. “So nobody gets bumped out of the loop. And so there’s some accountability.”

Another elaborated on this idea. He requested that the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) create something visible to track which companies would be hiring and when, in which segments of the industry, and how many jobs they should have for local residents.

“The Ferdinand building could be the pilot” to fix the issue of people not knowing about jobs in time, he said.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz spoke up on the issue of better information flow to the community. She suggested using all possible media to publicize job information — Facebook, Twitter, the Bay State Banner, radio. She goes on Touch 106.1 radio every month, she noted, and wants to invite people involved with the Ferdinand project to appear with her to talk about upcoming jobs.

Shelley Webster, the black female owner of Centaur Construction Services, spoke about how valuable it is to get a local minority firm in, because that firm will bring in like workers. Her company exceeded minority and local hiring goals in their part of the Dudley Square Elderly Housing Development, she said.

The next Task Force meeting, on Nov. 16, will be an update on the Ferdinand project design. The following meeting on Dec. 15 is slated to be about transportation.

But Task Force members said the jobs issue was too “hot” to put aside. Dana Whiteside, Dudley Vision project manager, said the December meeting topic could be switched to jobs, and/or an extra meeting on jobs may be scheduled for late November.