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Opinion: Does Delaware’s new community workforce agreements law work for the community?

The recently passed Senate Bill 25 limits Black- and minority-owned contractors' ability to compete for state-funded construction projects, Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce's Ayanna Khan argues.

Under construction. (Photo by Pexels user Rodolfo Quirós via a Creative Commons license)

This is a guest post by Ayanna Khan, the founder, president and CEO of the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce. It was originally published in Delaware Business Magazine. The Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce is a Ecosystem Builder client.

In January, Senate Bill 35 was signed by Gov. John Carney into law. The law establishes a pilot program under the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) that mandates community workforce agreements, or CWAs, on state-funded construction projects.

The program targets six projects: Hodgson Vo-Tech High School, DNREC Lab, Hospital for the Chronically Ill, OMB Food Building, and two DelDOT projects which have not been identified yet. All four OMB projects contain community workforce agreements, while only one project, Hodgson, included a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) requirement, and both DelDOT projects will contain CWAs and DBE requirements.

A major challenge with this law is that community workforce agreements limit Black- and minority-owned contractors’ ability to participate and compete for state-funded construction projects. All projects should be inclusive of DBE requirements, not just select projects. A unified approach —one that incorporates all enterprises, DBE and otherwise — ensures that a level playing field exists for all Delaware businesses and their employees.

The bill passed the Senate by a party line vote. It was debated for several hours in the House the evening before the General Assembly adjourned for break. House Republicans offered several amendments, which the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce (DEBCC) supported, such as placing DBE requirements on all projects, removing the community workforce agreements requirements, and mandating that all projects be completed by bona fide legal residents of the state.

All amendments were defeated. Like the Senate, the bill passed the House by a party line vote aside from Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, who voted against the bill for the same reasons the DEBCC opposed this measure.

The amendments proposed by House Republicans and supported by the DEBCC would have created more equity for Delawareans, especially Black- and minority-owned businesses.

Statements like those found on lines 144 through 145 in the bill — “There will be two different approaches: 1) Community Workforce projects and 2) Disadvantaged Business Enterprise” — do not create equal opportunity for all. They divide DBEs and organized labor, in which many Black- and minority-owned contractors do not participate.

A majority of the construction in Delaware is completed by non-union labor. So, why does this bill prioritize community workforce agreements, limit the number of DBEs to certain projects, and grant state contracts to out-of-state workers while Delaware Blacks and minorities are left on the sidelines?

There should be one unified approach wherein all community workforce projects should be inclusive of DBE requirements. A unified approach incorporating all enterprises, DBE and otherwise, ensures that a level playing field exists for all businesses, their employees and communities. This is what the DEBCC desires, while recognizing that racial disparities need to be addressed, and equitable economic opportunities for minority businesses need to be enhanced.

When a fair field for all Delaware contractors exist, we will truly realize a Delaware business economy that is equitable, improved and works for all Delawareans.

Learn more about the DEBCC

Companies: Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce
People: John Carney

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