The Metropolitan District Commission is taking heat from local labor officials who claim MDC hasn't lived up to its agreements to require that contractors employ graduates from its own minority training program for the $2 billion overhaul of the region's sewer system.
The regional water and pollution control authority defends itself by saying that since March the agency has placed more than one third of the minority graduates with its contractors and paid half their wages out of its pocket.
"Obviously, we recognize that training people is half the battle, but placing them is the other half of the battle," said MDC Assistant General Counsel Chris Stone.
The Minority Construction Council, the Connecticut Laborers' District Council and the Capital Workforce Partners' Job Funnel also have all come after MDC for hiring out-of-state contractors and subcontractors on the many projects of the $2 billion sewer overhaul.
More than $800 million of the project already has been approved, and that encompasses numerous contracts.
MDC provides water and sewer services to eight member towns -- Bloomfield, East Hartford, Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor -- and portions of other towns in central Connecticut.
"This is a really horrific situation being created by the decision makers at the MDC," said Charles LeConche, business manager of the Connecticut Laborers' District Council. "With over $2 billion involved in this multi-year project, the MDC has the opportunity to jumpstart Connecticut's economy by hiring talented companies and workers here in the state. Instead, MDC officials choose to bypass our local workers and local companies."
Under its charter, the MDC must take the lowest qualified bid for all its projects, regardless of whether the bidder is from in-state or out-of-state.
Still, the MDC board last week passed a measure that would make certain contracts and subcontracts on the $2 billion overhaul exclusively to small, local businesses in its eight member towns.
That measure, approved under a charter amendment passed in the latest Connecticut General Assembly, begins on Sept. 1.
However, LeConche said, in projects run by out-of-state companies, the MDC should do more to place graduates from the training program, which was comprised of 93 percent black and Latino students. Of the 15 trainees that graduated on March 5, five have been placed in jobs.
The best way to get these people hired is to require all contractors and subcontractors on MDC projects to hire a minority training program graduate, LeConche said. The same requirement could call for local labor to be used in all projects.
"How do we force a contractor to take a trainee if MDC refuses to put any requirements in the contract?" LeConche said.
The MDC is considering putting a requirement into the contracts, Stone said, but the authority would rather work with the contractors now than force them to use certain people, which could drive up costs or scare some companies away.
"We don't want to flood the market with manpower," said Jay Sabitoni, director of training for the New England Laborers' Training Academy, which ran the minority training program.
The training program was funded by MDC, and the authority has $96,000 available to reimburse up to half the costs to any of its contractors who choose to hire a graduate from the program. In addition to the five that have been hired, two more contractors have expressed an interest in using at least one graduate.
"Our focus has been not just with the training, but getting these individuals placed into jobs," Stone said.