Bias against black workers possible in light-rail project, report says
Some African-American laborers may have experienced discrimination on a Sound Transit contractor's tunnel job site, according to a report released Monday by the agency.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Eight African-American laborers may have experienced discrimination on a Sound Transit contractor's tunnel job site, and black workers in general were disproportionately dropped from work crews there, according to a report released Monday by the agency.
An investigator for Sound Transit looked into a series of allegations since last year — for instance, that union laborers were assigned menial tasks and then told they weren't needed.
The tunnel team of Traylor Frontier-Kemper (TFK) denies bias, saying it declined to use people of any race who lack specialized skills to build deep-bore tunnels, such as experience applying spray-on concrete to stabilize soil.
"In each case where TFK declined to hire a worker, it was due to insufficient qualifications or safety concerns," a statement said Monday.
The team is building twin light-rail tunnels from the University of Washington to Capitol Hill, for $314 million, as part of a three-mile, $1.9 billion Link light-rail extension from Westlake Center to the UW, to open in 2016.
Sound Transit's governing board is scheduled to discuss the report Thursday. Transit staff propose that the discrimination cases go to arbitration.
Elected officials on the transit board had promised to be vigilant about bias, after demonstrations at two Beacon Hill job sites in 2006. Protesters said too few African Americans were hired for trucking and other subcontracts.
Sound Transit says it received 13 complaints last year, of which its investigator, Marcella Fleming Reed, examined eight. She said race "may have been a motivating factor" in two people not being hired and four being terminated; and race "was likely to be" a factor in two terminations.
The investigation alleges that black workers were more likely than whites to be dispatched and then either turned away or released prematurely. Of a sample of 30 black laborers dispatched to the site, 37 percent remained after 600 work hours, while 75 percent of white workers were still on the job by that point, says a briefing paper by CEO Joni Earl and two senior staffers.
Bolstering its safety argument, TFK describes how one of the six African-American laborers was let go for violating instructions when he walked along the trackway of a supply train — its statement then mentions the 2007 supply-train crash that killed a worker at Beacon Hill.
Reed also said there was evidence of bias against women.
The Fair Access to Sound Transit (FAST) Coalition, a group involved in the bias review, was told by a TFK supervisor that having women in a tunnel-boring crew "was a problem," while another supervisor said the team was keeping women away, Reed reported.
TFK later included women in a crew building cross-passages between the twin tubes, she says.
The team used "travelers" from other regions to perform specialized work, adding to the perception that local workers were displaced.
Overall, 28 percent of TFK's work hours here are by people of color, exceeding its goal of 21 percent in the contract, the team says.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom.