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SOUTH : First AME Denies Bias at Building Site

July 04, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

The Los Angeles Unemployed Council labor organization last week accused First African Methodist Episcopal Church of discriminatory hiring practices at one of its new construction sites. The Rev. Cecil Murray and other church officials denied the charges.

In a statement to the press, Deacon Alexander said the labor council he heads "had no knowledge of (the church's) plans to involve black general, sub or licensed contractors" at FAME Gardens, a $14-million affordable-housing project on 27th Street near 7th Avenue.

Alexander's Crenshaw-based council, comprising about 500 skilled and unskilled laborers, regularly shuts down South-Central construction sites that it perceives as not hiring a high-enough percentage of black contractors or laborers. The group has shut down several sites this year by asking workers to lay down their tools and leave.

Alexander said the fact that the project's remaining general contractor is white "signals that the work force may be unacceptable, and we may have to shut (the job site) down." He said that some parishioners of the 8,500-member First AME Church, whom he would not name, had expressed dissatisfaction with the choice of general contractor and felt that blacks would subsequently not be hired as subcontractors or laborers.

Murray rejected Alexander's charges, saying that First AME is encouraging all black subcontractors, particularly those from the community, to bid on jobs. Until last week, Murray said, one of the general contractors was a black but he withdrew, leaving his partner, who is white. Because of time constraints, Murray said, the church decided to proceed with the contractor, S. J. Amoroso of Los Angeles, with the assurances that a substantial number of black workers would be employed in the project.

Construction on the 81-unit development, which will include a day-care center, is to begin late next month. The development is being financed by the Community Redevelopment Agency and tax credits of corporations solicited by FAME.

"We greet (Alexander) as a brother in our struggle to make certain blacks are empowered in the job market," Murray said. "We are open to him sitting with us during the bidding process. . . . We would like to feel we are all pro-minority. We are in the same boat on that level. We are always making strong efforts to ensure that workers from the community are hired, particularly by posting jobs."

Alexander also has targeted RAS Builders, owned by a Los Angeles black general contractor, alleging that not enough council members have been offered substantial work at an Adams Boulevard-Western Avenue housing project. Construction is to get under way on that project this month.

Kimberly Yeager, an RAS spokeswoman, said the labor leader's demands and expectations of immediate employment are not realistic. "RAS has people who have always worked with them as subs, and those subs have laborers who follow them from job to job," she said. "We can't fire people just because (Alexander) demands it."

Alexander said he is expecting a 50% black work force, minimum, at the site, including members of his organization who would be hired for several weeks' work.

Yeager said that RAS is willing to hire anyone who qualifies for a subcontracting or other job. "Of course we're not against hiring blacks, or Deacon's people. 'We just can't give a flat-out 'yes' to hiring workers when we haven't even begun construction yet."

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