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Originally published July 26, 2012 at 8:16 PM | Page modified July 26, 2012 at 8:51 PM

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New inspector to watch for bias in UW-Capitol Hill tunnel-worker hiring

Sound Transit will assign a civil-rights inspector to its tunneling project from Husky Stadium to Capitol Hill, in response to complaints of discrimination by a contractor.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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Sound Transit says it will assign a civil-rights inspector to its tunneling project from Husky Stadium to Capitol Hill, in response to complaints of race and gender discrimination by a contractor.

The agency's plan, discussed Thursday, calls for the contractor to notify Sound Transit in writing whenever a worker is dismissed from a job. Also, graveyard shifts and apprenticeship training should be supplied for female and African-American workers, CEO Joni Earl told the transit board. Some board members hinted at tougher measures, such as "redress" to laid-off workers.

"I know the Sound Transit team stands ready to right this wrong," said Chairwoman Pat McCarthy, Pierce County executive.

The contractor, Traylor Frontier-Kemper (TFK), insists it never discriminated, and that hiring choices were made to promote safety and quality.

The board's tough talk followed testimony by union laborers about being dropped from crews by TFK, which is being paid $314 million to build two miles of train tunnel.

Mining laborer Anthony Campbell said that despite 25 years' experience, he was left off the crew by TFK, based on an unusual checklist. It included unfamiliar terminology, such as "tailgunner," for a job Campbell says he knows well, laying concrete after the tunnel drill passes.

"These people need to be run out of town. I'm a taxpaying citizen," he said.

An investigator hired by Sound Transit, Marcella Fleming Reed, found that six black laborers may have been or were likely dismissed based on race. Earl's plan gives those six the option to bring their cases to an arbitrator.

A statistical study of 30 black laborers at the TFK site found they were twice as likely to be dismissed from crews as white laborers, while there was no disparity at the neighboring Capitol Hill-to-Westlake Station tunnel, built by Jay Dee, Seattle-based Frank Coluccio Construction, and Michels. Women initially were excluded from deep-bore tunnel work until Sound Transit intervened, Reed said.

Miners with specialized skills are in short supply here, say officials from Indiana-based TFK, which had brought in 24 outside workers.

TFK project manager Michael Krulc offered some conciliatory language at Thursday's meeting: "We regret any perception of discrimination. We are committed to working with the community and Sound Transit to find a positive way forward. To date, TFK has delivered this project on time and on budget, and we take great pride in our team, our workplace and our safety record," he said.

James Kelly, former head of the local Urban League branch, said he has been retained by TFK to "engage in healing and reconciliation."

If companies don't comply with Sound Transit's plan, officials could conceivably sue for violating nondiscrimination rules — or ban TFK from bid competitions. But Desmond Brown, the agency's chief counsel, says such a severe outcome is unlikely.

Another four miles of rail corridor lie ahead from the University of Washington to Northgate, a source of nine-figure contracts for tunnel firms in good standing.

"We're interested in future work," TFK project manager Krulc said afterward.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom.

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