When the program was announced in 2006, it seemed like a perfect solution:
Unions, which were short on minority members, would cooperate with the Philadelphia School District to recruit 450 public school graduates into union apprentice programs and then put them to work on $1.7 billion worth of school-construction projects.
But, in written testimony presented yesterday to the Mayor's Advisory Commission on Construction Industry Diversity, Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairwoman Sandra Dungee Green said: "Good intentions are not enough to ensure that our students reap the benefits we intended."
The testimony by Dungee Glenn, one of about 20 witnesses at the second public hearing of the commission in City Hall, described a joint union-district program with a lot of loose ends.
Only one joint school district-union recruiting fair was held, drawing nearly 2,000 people. The deal called for four a year.
Unions said they needed graduates with better literacy and math skills, but they did not follow up with a model curriculum, Dungee Glenn said.
Neither the school nor the unions have provided enough job opportunities, she said.
And unions have provided insufficient detail about participation in the program.
Dungee Glenn said that while the unions have said they had moved 392 public school graduates into apprentice programs, the district has been unable to find out their names, graduation dates or union affiliations.
She did praise one union, District Council 21 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
The union provides apprenticeships for high school students and runs a summer program for high school juniors and seniors. Dungee Glenn expressed optimism for the overall initiative's eventual success and promised to increase cooperation with Philadelphia Building Trades Council.
In her testimony, Dungee Glenn echoed earlier witnesses who said that a key to minority employment was the success of minority contractors.
She said the district had moved many minority and small contractors through its small-contractors program, handling 86 contracts worth $7.3 million. An additional 47 contracts worth $3.5 million are in progress.
But, she said, a provision of the 2006 deal, which required all school contractors to be union, has hurt some small contractors.
Among them was another witness, James Copeland, a non-union African American electrical contractor from Philadelphia who had done work for the school district since the mid-1990s.
In 2006, he told the commission, he agreed to become a union contractor.
His three employees enrolled in the union, two of them as apprentices.
The apprentices could not pass written tests and so did not become journeymen, even though they had five or six years of experience and had done work that passed government inspections. "It was quality work," Copeland testified.
Now, he said, he's in a tough spot.
Two of the employees were his son and son-in-law, both of whom are no longer in the union. The union says he has to hire union electricians, but he said he would not fire his son and son-in-law.
He said the union was willing to send him workers, but not his longtime employees.
Now, Copeland said, he no longer gets school district jobs. Frank Keel, spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Also testifying was Glenn Bryan, assistant vice president and director of the Office of Community Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. He said Penn had made an effort to build up its skilled workforce at least in part with people from the neighborhood, many of whom are minorities.
In one current project, 30 to 40 percent of the work force is minority, and the contractors know they need to have those kind of numbers if they want the work. "They have to play ball with Penn," Bryan said.
Mayor Nutter formed the commission in February after a standoff over minority participation in the Convention Center project.