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Some construction projects in Syracuse overwhelmingly white, male, report finds

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Deka Dancil, president of the Urban Jobs Task Force.

White, suburban men are reaping the benefits of public construction projects in the Syracuse area, despite the city's demographics, according to a new report. Advocacy groups are sounding the alarm, before a decision is made regarding the future of the Interstate-81 viaduct in Syracuse.

The I-81 project is expected to be a massive undertaking with the potential to create lots of jobs for local residents.

Andrew Croom, staff attorney with Legal Services of Central New York, which issued the report with the Urban Jobs Task Force, said they reviewed the payroll records for five construction projects in the Syracuse area, including Hancock Airport, Lakeview Amphitheater and I-690 Teall Avenue.   

“The worksite was about 88 percent white, which is only 12 percent minority,” Croom said. “When you look at city demographics, 50 percent of the city is minority. There is a clear disparity, a clear inequity between what the city looks like, and what these projects look like.”

Deka Dancil, president of the Urban Jobs Task Force, said if things don't change before I-81 reconstruction begins, a majority of the workforce would still be white men from the suburbs. 

"While we're not saying that we don't want them to have jobs, we're just saying that we want to have equal access," Dancil said. "For that to be possible, work has to be done. An effective pathway to apprenticeships must be made. As of right now, one does not currently exist."

Dancil said to address racial disparities, workforce training programs need to eliminate some of the barriers affecting people, including transportation and child care.

“You cannot create a workforce development program, a job training program, for someone living in poverty, and expect them to do that for free for 16 weeks without pay,” Dancil said.

In addition to more state and federal funding towards the construction trades for Syracuse residents, the report recommends union apprenticeships after high school and preparation for higher-skilled construction trades, like electrical and welding.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.