erik herbert.jpg

Erik Herbert

Niagara Falls City Council members call it an attempt to "change the culture" of publicly funded workforces. 

Lawmakers voted last week to affirm a proclamation signed by Mayor Paul Dyster earlier this year, which vowed to prioritize local and minority hiring goals in city-assisted projects costing more than $1 million.

Under the sponsorship of City Council Chairman Charles Walker, the lawmakers present unanimously approved the resolution. 

"A lot of jobs come to the city, but most of the people who work on those jobs are outside the city," Walker said before casting his vote in support of the measure. "So it's a process. It's a hard process. But I applaud (Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope) for the work they're doing to try the change the culture."

At the insistence of the NOAH, Dyster issued his pronouncement in June. The mayor said the aim of the policy was to see "the growth of our city is linked to the personal advancement of our local residents, regardless of color, neighborhood or station in life."

The Rev. JoAnne Scott, NOAH's president, said this week the purpose of the resolution was to ensure the future enforcement lives beyond Dyster's tenure as mayor. 

Scott said the resolution's passage protects "local workers of color and minority- and women-owned business enterprises" in what is called a "Community Benefits Agreement."

"This policy, which was already graciously accepted by the mayor, is the result of extensive work between the city staff, council members and a broad range of community stakeholders, including churches, unions and the community leadership of NOAH," she said.

The CBA agreement "is a commitment to what we are holding tonight will be embraced by our entire community," she continued.

NOAH's push for workforce equity began in 2015, when the organization released data indicating that African-Americans had worked only 200 of the 35,000 hours it took to construct the $43 million Niagara Falls Train Station on Main Street.

The ultimate goal is to encourage an "authentic relationship takes place between the stakeholders invested in the development of the city of Niagara Falls," Scott said earlier this week.

The policy was first employed with TM Montante Development, a city of Buffalo-based construction outfit that is slated to undertake a $5 million redevelopment of a series of buildings and parcels at the corner of Niagara and Seventh Streets with the city's help.

The agreement had not been made part of the original public bidding process, but Montante's COO, Matthew Montante, returned to the table to say they would "address" its aims. 

Walker had supported a decision to hold up a required city council approval for the firm until it acknowledged a willingness to incorporate the CBA's goals. At the time, Walker said administration officials should further incorporate the policy into requests for proposals (RFP), "in which the developers will score higher based upon the amount of community work that will be part of the RFP."

Walker also said this week that the policy was also a way of "changing the whole issue of poverty" in the city. He was joined in support for the decision by his colleagues.

Councilman Ezra Scott, Jr. said during the lawmakers' meeting, there are "a lot of horror stories in Niagara Falls, back in the day. Just the whole way of doing things."

"I'm excited to see things changing," he added, which was followed by agreement from Councilman Kenny Tompkins.

Councilman Andrew Touma said he was "impressed by the perseverance" of NOAH through the process.

"They don't accept no. They just move forward," he said earlier this week. "They're the ones who really pushed for this and got it done."

BY THE NUMBERS

200 — Number of hours African-Americans worked of the 35,000 hours spent constructing the $43M Niagara Falls train station project, according to NOAH.

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