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Where Are the Minority Contractors on CA's High Speed Rail

LOS ANGELES -  The construction of a high speed rail connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles is a godsend for anyone who routinely travels between Northern and Southern California.

But the $43 billion public works project apparently hasn’t been a blessing for minority contractors. Only a dozen of the 134 consultants participating in the project are minority-owned firms, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

The group recently filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, alleging that the California High Speed Rail Authority’s contracting practices “systematically exclude minority-owned businesses from equal opportunity,” New America Media (NAM)reported.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights estimates that half of the funds to complete the project will come from the federal government. As a result, the committee and a group of minority business owners have requested that the government delay funding the high-speed rail project until an investigation into the rail authority’s contracting practices has been completed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars federal agencies from discriminating against minority groups, so if the rail authority is, in fact, excluding minority contractors, it should not be eligible to receive federal funding.

Part of the problem may be that the rail authority isn’t working with small businesses, the type of business minorities are likely to own.  New America Media reports that less than 4 percent of the contracting funds made available to the rail authority have been granted to small or micro businesses.

Why is it crucial for agencies to give minority contractors work? Because communities of color “are most impacted by this recession to start with,” Diana Lacombe, president of Associated Professionals and Contractors, told Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. In other words, if we expect the nation to recover from the economic recession, it is imperative that ailing minority businesses receive the federal funding needed to revitalize minority communities.

This isn’t just a business matter, though. Minority contractors should be a part of the high speed rail project because such firms have historically faced discrimination. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was created to put an end to such discrimination. If an agency discriminates against minority business - intentionally or otherwise - by excluding them from employment opportunities, it should not receive federal funding.

It’s inexcusable that less than 1 percent of consultants hired by the rail authority are minority firms. Tell the Department of Transportation to stop funding the California high speed rail project until it can rule out the claim that the California High Speed Rail Authority is not an equal opportunity employer.


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