On Feb. 1, the Williams College Feminist Collective and Converging Worlds hosted a Claiming Williams Day panel on equity in construction, in which members of the local carpenters’ union brought attention to problematic aspects of the College’s hiring policy for construction workers. Specifically, they urged the College to reevaluate its standards for racial and gender diversity in hiring and contracting and questioned the College’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) requirement for construction workers. We at the Record believe that these issues are significant and timely and that the College should revise its policies toward construction hiring processes in order to better reflect our community’s commitment to equity in the workplace.
Construction projects and construction workers are omnipresent on campus, and workers interact with students on a daily basis as parts of the community. As such, we believe that the same diversity, equity and inclusion priorities that the College values in student admission and faculty hiring should apply to construction hiring. This is especially pertinent when considering the fact that the construction industry has historically been dominated by white men. In light of this, the College should take an active role in encouraging its contractors to focus on equity in hiring. Furthermore, the College represents a significant share of the construction industry in the Berkshire area, and therefore it has the opportunity to leverage this power by implementing new diversity standards that could have a positive impact on the whole region.
The College should strive to meet the governmental targets for equity in construction laid out in 1978. These goals aim for people of color to make up at least 15.3 percent of the construction workforce and for women to make up at least 6.9 percent. Although they are not legally binding for private institutions, these targets offer a bare minimum standard of equity, and we urge the College to codify these requirements in its contracts for all future construction projects. While we recognize that Berkshire County is fairly racially homogeneous, complying with the 1978 guidelines is a reasonable goal. Testimonies from panelists repeatedly confirmed that the presence of a potential workforce of people of color and women is not lacking; other institutions undergoing major construction projects in the area, such as Mount Holyoke College and MGM Grand, which is building a new casino in Springfield, have already adopted these guidelines for some or all of their projects.
We also believe that the College should carefully consider the role that CORI checks play in construction hiring. As pointed out by the panel, construction is often seen as a “second-chance industry” that allows people with criminal records to build careers and reenter society. The College currently reviews positive results on CORI checks on a case-by-case basis, but we strongly recommend that the College implement a uniform set of guidelines for determining what kinds of criminal offenses constitute grounds for rejection. Specifically, the College should be cautious of rejecting people with nonviolent criminal records, especially nonviolent drug crimes, as these could serve to exacerbate existing racial discrimination in the industry by propagating the racist underpinnings of the justice system. A published, uniform standard would not only openly recognize and promote the College’s commitment to avoiding discrimination – it would also reassure subcontractors that their employees will not be rejected by the College and thus make them less likely to reject applicants with criminal records outright in their own hiring. Therefore, we encourage the College to incorporate these guidelines as binding clauses in all of its contracts – both with general contractors and subcontractors – for future construction projects.
Both inside and outside of the classroom, we discuss and promote equity and social justice. We should uphold these values in all facets of our community – a community that includes our construction workers just as much as it includes students, faculty and staff. We hope that the College will play an active role in ensuring that future construction hirings are made with these values in mind.