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  4. Meeting of August 22, 2022 - Advancing Racial and Economic Justice in the Workplace - Transcript

Meeting of August 22, 2022 - Advancing Racial and Economic Justice in the Workplace - Transcript



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              LISTENING SESSION I:


                IN THE WORKPLACE


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            MONDAY, AUGUST 22, 2022


               BUFFALO, NEW YORK


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JANET DHILLON       Commissioner


ANDREA R. LUCAS     Commissioner




            This transcript was produced from audio provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.




DR. HENRY LOUIS TAYLOR, JR., Professor, University at Buffalo

ZENETA EVERHART, Community Advocate, Mother of Tops Shooting Victim

GARNELL WHITFIELD, JR., Community Advocate, Son of Tops Shooting Victim

KIMBERLY HAYWARD, Hospital Worker, Lead Plaintiff in Race Discrimination Suit

LISA COPPOLA, ESQ., Ms. Hayward's Counsel

MAUREEN KIELT, Director, EEOC Buffalo Office

CLOTILDE PEREZ-BODE DEDECKER, President & CEO, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo

JOHN SOMERS, President & CEO, Harmac Medical Products, Inc.

TRINA BURRUSS, COO, United Way of Buffalo and Erie County

BRENDAN R. MEHAFFY, Executive Director, City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning

KELLY HERNANDEZ, Director, Hispanic Heritage Counsel of Western New York

DR. ROLANDA WARD, Professor, Niagara University

REV. MARK BLUE, President, Buffalo NAACP

THOMAS BEAUFORD, JR., President & CEO, Buffalo Urban League

CINDI McEACHON, CEO, Peaceprints of WNY





               TABLE OF CONTENTS


Introduction and Welcome


Opening Remarks


Witness Panel 1


Dr. Taylor

Ms. Everhart

Mr. Whitfield

Ms. Hayward

Ms. Kielt


Commissioner Questions


Vice Chair Samuels

Commissioner Dhillon

Commissioner Sonderling

Commissioner Lucas

Chair Burrows



Witness Panel 2


Ms. Perez‑Bode Dedecker

Mr. Somers

Ms. Burruss

Mr. Mehaffy

Ms. Hernandez


Commissioner Questions


Vice Chair Samuels

Commissioner Dhillon

Commissioner Sonderling

Commissioner Lucas

Chair Burrows



Witness Panel 3


Dr. Ward

Rev. Blue

Mr. Beauford

Ms. McEachon



Commissioner Questions


Vice Chair Samuels

Commissioner Dhillon

Commissioner Sonderling

Commissioner Lucas

Chair Burrows


Conclusion/Thank you


Chair Burrows



                                   (10:00 a.m.)

CHAIR BURROWS:  The recording, and the transcript, as well as the list of our witness, will be posted on the EEOC's websites after this listening session.

As the presiding officer I am responsible for regulating the course of the meeting.  Today's session will consist of three panels of witnesses.  For each panel I will introduce the witnesses, who will each have five minutes for their opening remarks, followed by questions from Members of the Commission.

We will then take a ten-minute break after the first panel. And break for lunch after the second panel.  Following the lunch break we will return for our third and final panel of witnesses.

While this hearing is open to the public, remarks and questions will not be taken from the audience at this time.  At the end I will let you know how to reach us afterwards, because we very much want to hear from all of you.

And I would say for our witnesses, as you begin, there is a button that allows you to speak.  Which has a person there.  And to begin that way as well for the Commissions.

Like most of America, I morn the tragedy and really condemned that vicious attack in Buffalo in May.  And it claimed the lives of ten innocent people.

But to eliminate the underlying injustice and racism that help create the conditions for racially motivated violence and discrimination, we also need sustained thoughtful and persistent action.  Grief and anger are not enough.

And today's listening session is meant to help us ensure that this Commission, borne out of the Civil Rights movements, created in direct response to the 1963 march on Washington for jobs and freedom, really undertakes the kind of sustained action in the area of employment discrimination that can in fact make real and lasting change.

We know of course that discrimination based on race, color and national origin extends into many areas beyond employment.  Including housing, lending, voting and hate crimes, to name just a few.

We are focused today on employment discrimination, because that's the area of our jurisdiction.  I recognize, however, that discrimination in the workplace is tied to these other issues.  And so we'll take back where this information touches over areas to other federal agencies.  And also be sure that they have access to this transcript today.

Our discussion and the contributions of today's panelists will help shape our strategic enforcement plan, the blueprint for our action over the next several years.  And ensure that our work is informed by the views of this community, and communities across America.

This section is an important step.  And although we have deep expertise in the area of employment, and we have had many successes in this area, we also understand that we don't have all the answers.

So with that, I will turn to my fellow Commissioners for opening statements.  Beginning with the Vice Chair.

And after that I will ask our witnesses to come here, because it is most important that we hear from them, not the Commission.  And to face the audience here.  And we will be listening there where the Panel would normally be.

So I thank you.  And I'm going to take my seat now and turn to the Vice Chair.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Well thank you so much, Chair Burrows.  I'm so grateful to be here in the City of Buffalo today to hear from, and meet so many people doing such transformative social justice work in this community.

As Chair Burrows has stated, wisdom exists in many communities outside of Washington.  And that's especially true here in Buffalo with its rich, centuries long history in the Civil Rights Movement.

There is no better place to seek the input of our stakeholders and gain the benefits of your wisdom and on the ground expertise and experience as we determine our strategic enforcement priorities for the next five years.

As you all know, the EEOC was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, which has as its very foundation, the work of the Niagara Movement and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr's vision of a justice and inclusive society for all, regardless of the race or the color of one's skin.

When thinking about Dr. King's vision and our purpose here today, I was struck by what I learned was a frequent observation of Kat Massey, who was killed at age 72 in the Tops Supermarket shooting.  Ms. Massey, a stop at nothing advocate, who was described lovingly at her funeral as the Mayor of every neighborhood she ever lived in, was known for saying, I have a vision, but figure it out with me.

That, in a nutshell, is why we are here today.  The EEOC was founded on a vision.  But realizing the vision depends on all of us.

Including those of you in this room and joining us online, the broader Buffalo community, and people around country whose experiences can enrich our perspective.  It is only by working together that we can make the vision of inclusion and equality that underlies EEOC's creation a reality.

I am so happy to be here.  Looking forward to hearing from our witnesses today.  And thank you for the warm welcome to you City.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  Commissioner Dhillon.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Thank you.  I'd also like to thank all of the witnesses who are going to appear here today.  And I want to thank the Buffalo community for welcoming us.  Particularly in light of the recent tragic events that have affected your community.  We all, as a nation, stand in awe of your courage and grace during these difficult past months.

I'd also like to extend my thanks to the City of Buffalo for hosting us at this listening session.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission's mission is to prevent and remedy discrimination in the workplace.  The EEOC enforces federal statutes that prohibit employment discrimination.  Including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The Agency is currently working on its new four year strategic enforcement plan.  At this listening session I look forward to hearing the witness's suggestions for the EEOC strategic enforcement plan.  Including their thoughts around areas of emphasis, particular topics for inclusion and any other ideas that the witnesses have to improve the effectiveness of the Agency's enforcement efforts.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And I'll turn now to Commissioner Sonderling.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Well thank you very much.  I want to sincerely thank the EEOC, my Fellow Commissioners and the Buffalo Staff for their very hard work in planning and preparing for this hearing in this beautiful building.  So thank you, the City of Buffalo, for hosting us.  And our team here in Buffalo for being here as well.

You know, it's really important that the Commission hear from voices outside of the beltway.  So I'm really glad we're doing that and I'm glad we're here.

And really that is based on the witnesses, so thank you to all of the witnesses.  I appreciate your time for coming here on a Monday and all the information you're going to give us.

But I do know that some of the information that we're going to discuss today is going to be painful.  But it is crucial that we hear from everyone so we can further our mission, which you just heard, is to prevent and remedy discrimination and advance equal opportunity in the workplace.

And in a special way I'd like to express my sincere prays for the victims of the mass shooting and the families that are here today.  But we also owe a great deal of gratitude to all of our watching across the country on Zoom.  And our presence is noted.

So today's mission is about our strategic plan listening session related to advancing racial and economic justice.  And I understand this is a very important topic to lead with, but I'm also hopeful that this is just one of many topics we're going to be discussing in the future in our future listening sessions.

And when we talk about an enforcing plan, what is another benefit of just enforcement, and that's compliance assistance.  So I think where the Commission goes with enforcement, it also lets the regulating committee know, we're coming here, and to get your house in order.

And I just do want to note on a positive, in Fiscal Year '21 discrimination charges that the EEOC received were down 9.1 percent.  And that's almost 38 percent down from Fiscal Year 2012.  It's still too many charges, but we're obviously doing something right if charge numbers are going down.

And I hope today's listening session helps us go where we need to be to make sure that discrimination continues to go down.  Thank you very much.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And now I turn to Commissioner Lucas.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Good morning.  And thank you to all the witnesses and members of the public joining the Commission for this listening session.

It's a pleasure to be here for the first in-person Commission meeting since I joined the Commission almost two years ago.  I'm looking forward today to hearing witnesses input on the EEOC's strategic enforcement plan and how we can continue to fulfill our mission of preventing and remedying unlawful employment discrimination.

Like others, I am pleased that we are stepping outside the D.C. bubble for today's listening session, despite my disappointment that the Commission is not having other in-person listening sessions across the country.  It's tremendously important that the Commission listens to voices, the concerns of every day Americans and that we consider a wide diversity of viewpoints as we go about our work.

As a native Clevelander, I see many parallels in Buffalo's history and present.  Both Great Lakes and Roosevelt Cities, cities with robust immigrant populations and with deep ties to the abolitionist movement.

But also lasting scars from busting housing segregation at suburban White blight.  Cities which once lies the heart of American manufacturing in the steel industry but have faced economic devastation from the off shoring of jobs of globalizations.

Buffalo recently was further wounded by the horrific shooting at Tops Market.  I morn with your community.  Such raced-based hate and violence deserves no place in our society.

It is also important to be realistic and humble about the ways that our particular government agency could help.  The challenges that Buffalo face, like cities across our country are complex and involve many areas of society outside the workplace.

The EEOC cannot cure all of society=s ills or racism at large.  But although we are just one piece of the puzzle, I believe that we can do tremendous good through our enforcement efforts against workplace discrimination.

I look forward to receiving public input on this important work, through this listening session, as well as after the public has a chance to comment on the draft of our strategic enforcement plan.  Thank you again for hosting us.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And I would ask now that our first panel of witnesses come forward.  And we would be honored to have you join us here on the front dais.  Take your time.

Thank you.  And I would have the pleasure now to introduce our witnesses, beginning with Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr.  Who is a professor of Urban and Regional Planning.  And founding director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Buffalo in our School of Architecture and Planning.

His research focuses on historical and contemporary analysis of distress urban neighborhoods with a focus on social isolation and race and class issues among people of color, particularly African-Americans and Latinos.

He co-authored the Harder we Run.  A 2021 report identifying seven root problems that Black Buffalo has faced over the past three decades.  Thank you for being here.

I introduce next Zeneta Everhart.  The mother of Zaire Goodman, a grocery store worker who survived the tragic shooting at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo on May 14th.

In June she testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform about the need to address hate and gun violence.  And since that shooting she and her son have organized a book drive that garnered 10,000 donated books to teach future generations about racism and diversity and inclusion.

She is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion also for New York State Senator Tim Kennedy.

I  introduce next, Garnell Whitfield, Jr.  The son of Ruth Whitfield, one of the ten persons whose lives were stolen on May 14th at that mass shooting.

And since then he has become an outspoken advocate on the need to address the threat of White Supremacy.  And urged public officials to use their power to address systemic racism.

In July he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and spoke at the March for Our Lives on the National Mall.  He is a retired Commissioner for the Buffalo Fire Department.  And a retired New York State Assistant Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Next I turn to Kimberly Hayward, a member of the Environmental Services Staff at the local hospital in Western New York.  She is the lead plaintiff in a state court lawsuit against her employer alleging systemic racial harassments, discrimination and retaliation.

She is accompanied by Lisa Coppola, one of the Attorneys who is representing her in that case, and a partner at the Coppola Firm.  A litigator who counsels small businesses, organizations and health care practices on a range of matters.  And represents employment, individuals in employment cases.

She is also the Chair elect of the board of, the National Association of Women Business Owners.

And of course, last, but not least, Maureen Kielt.  The Director of our own Buffalo local Office.  A position that she has held since May 2020.

In her 23-year tenure at the EEOC, Ms. Kielt investigated several high profile cases that have been litigated by our New York District Office.  She has also worked closely with the Department of Justice on cases against state and local governments.

So welcome to each one of you.  We are so honored that you are willing to meet with us and to help assist the Commission's work.

Just as a reminder, five minutes for each of your remarks.  We will be having following questions from the Commissioners.  I think we're doing eight minute rounds.  So there will be eight minutes of questions so that we can really dig in a little bit.

And the last announcement is, of course, there is that button on the, it should be fairly straight forward, but let me know.  We also are keeping track of time.  You will see a clock behind you to help you regulate.  So thank you very much.

So I'll begin with Dr. Taylor.

DR. TAYLOR:  Thank you.  Buffalo is one of the most segregated urban centers in the United States.  And the high concentration of Blacks is what attracted the racist shooter to the City of Good Neighbors on May 14th, 2022.

This White Supremacist knew that only one supermarket serviced the east side 68,000 Black residents.  He knew that shoppers would fill the store that Saturday afternoon.

Ironically, White racism fueled the shooter racial hatred.  And White racism also created the marginalized, underdeveloped neighborhood conditions that drew him to the city.

Tops sits in an urban landscape that reflects the ugly realities of Buffalo's brand of structural racism.  A sea of substandard rental housing, unkept vacant lots, neglected sidewalks and streets around the store.

Nearby, Route 33, the Kensington Express cuts through the east side.  Devalues owner-occupied housing and spews tons of noise and air pollution into the environment.

These underdeveloped neighborhood conditions spawn harmful social determinants that curtail life chances and produce adverse economic and health outcomes in the Black community.

Consequently, in Buffalo most Black folks don't live long and health lives.  A 52 percent differential exists in the premature death rates between Blacks and Whites.

Racial residential segregation is the culprit.  And the rise of mass home ownership after World War II created it.  And mass homeownership, Whiteness and social class exclusivity determined housing values.  And Whites kept Blacks out of their neighborhoods to increase property value.

Between 1940 and 1980, thousands of Blacks poured into the city while thousands more Whites rushed to the suburban homeownership zones.  Whites use zoning laws, restrictive covenants and intimidation to exclude Blacks from the suburbs and segregate them on Buffalo's east side.  The die was cast.

Low-income and high rents trap Blacks in these segregated neighborhoods.  This is because there is a direct association amongst labor market dynamics, household income and residential segregation.

Buffalo Erie County has a dual labor market consisting of high paying jobs requiring a college degree.  And high paying, and low paying, working class jobs.

The problem is that jobs, occupations and every kind of employment are not (technical difficulties.)  Whites all around (technical difficulties) high paying working class jobs of Blacks (technical difficulties.)

Education (technical difficulties)  does not explain this disparity.  This disparity and discrepancy.

While a significant college education disparity exists between Blacks and Whites, there is parity between the races regarding the proportion of high school graduates and those having some college or an associate's degree.  Only 30 percent of the jobs in this region require a college degree.

So why can't Blacks get their rightful share of the plentiful high paying working class jobs?  The reason is systemic structural racism.

Case in point, in Erie County suburbs, less than 50 percent of the residents and 19 of 21 of the highest income suburbs have college degrees.  And in ten of the 21 highest income suburbs, less than 30 percent of the population have college degrees.

In closing,  the race-based disparities in high paying working class jobs produce inequities in income and homeownership.  For example, there is a 66 percent differential in the medium household income of Blacks and Whites.  And a 69 percent differential in homeownership rates.

The time has come for the EEOC to help end this vicious cycle of exclusion and predatory inclusion by removing the purposeful for deliberate and/or calculated obstacles that exclude Blacks from high paying working class jobs.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  So I would turn next to Ms. Everhart.  Thank you.  Good morning.  Go ahead please.

MS. EVERHART:  Good morning.  And thank you.  My son Zaire Goodman was shot and seriously injured by a domestic terrorist at the Tops Grocery Store on Jefferson Avenue in the City of Buffalo on Saturday, May 14th, 2022.

I am truly grateful that the rest of Zaire's story is a story of survival, healing and the realization of a miracle right before our eyes.  While Zaire's physical wounds continue to heal, his body and mind are forever altered.

Zaire was shot on the right side of his neck.  And the fragments of that bullet exited his body on his back, right on top of his spine.  He will live with shrapnel inside of his body for the rest of his life.  He is left with the memory of feeling his flesh being torn open by a bullet from an AR-15.

He is also left with the memory of seeing an elder from his community who he says was a wonderful woman, being shot and killed right in front of him.  As well as the memory of bodies lying dead in the parking lot of the grocery store where he was employed.  So therapy will now be a normal part of his healing journey.

Since 5/14 everyone has asked me how do I stay strong.  Zaire is that reason.  Seeing the way that Zaire has handled all of this has given me the strength to advocate for change.

The first thing Zaire said to me after he was shot while in the hospital bed was, mom, I knew I'd be fine.  He is resilient.

Besides going to doctors, his first time really getting out of the house was 15 days after the massacre.  And he wanted to go to the memorial in front of Tops to put flowers down.  Zaire knelt there for a good five minutes.

Three days after that, he went to a meeting at the library with his coworkers.  He missed his people.

And when Tops reopened he was there and happy to return.  While he realizes that the scene there is a source of pain for so many in the community, he feels that the reopening of the store shows the terrorist that he cannot destroy our community.

The world we live in is by design.  Systemic racism is a calculated construct.  That is why it was so easy for the terrorist to find the Black people here in Buffalo and cause terror.

We live in a very exclusive society.  It is not an inclusive.  We like to think that America is the melting pot that everyone says that it is, but it is not.

We don't blend together like a perfectly mixed smoothie.  We separate and build walls around ourselves.  We live in bubbles with people who look like us.  And then one day we step outside of those walls and freak out because the outside world looks nothing like the four square miles that we were raised in.

What I said in my statement to Congress, that American is inherently violent, I wasn't just talking about domestic terrorism and gun violence, I was also talking about the condition of the Black community.

What is happening in my community, and communities just like the east side of Buffalo all across the country, is violent.  The starvation of resources, the lack of education, the poor health system, dilapidated housing, few employment opportunities, food insecurity, limited transportation, redlining, not having enough green spaces, not having sidewalks.

This is violence.  Black people have been under attack in this country since my ancestors stepped off those boats.  And it boggles my mind that I sit here before you today saying the same things that Black people have been saying for centuries.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I will turn now to Mr. Garnell Whitfield.

MR. WHITFIELD:  Good morning.  I'm here today because my 86-year-old-mother was murdered.  Along with nine other souls while shopping in our community on May 14th.

Unlike I'm learned distinguished panelists that you'll hear from today, I brought only my lived experiences to share with you because I want you to know what it feels like to be traumatized in this manner.  Not just on May 14th, but every day, every day of your life.  Just because of the color of your skin.

On the surface it would appear that I made it.  You know, I'm blessed with a functional family, a reasonable portion of health and intelligence, depending on who you talk to, commonsense, gainful employment.  An opportunity to grab a piece of that much sought after American dream.

The truth is, I, like every other Black American, am a victim and survivor of racism.  Treated differently and put under constant pressure to be quiet and ignore the incessant barrage of biases, implicit and otherwise, just to get along.  Just to fit in.  And just maybe get a piece of that so called dream that you've been taught to believe in.

The problem is, reality keeps waking you up.  Picked up, physically and emotionally abused by police as a child.  Driven to parts of the city that I was unaware of and told to get out.  In hindsight I guess I was one of the lucky ones.

Accused of armed robbery at the Age of 15.  Lied on, physically abused while in custody facing a grand jury indictment only freed because my accuser was again robbed while I awaited trial, which rendered him unable to testify against me.

Charges were dismissed in lieu of his testimony.  The case was never adjudicated.  Which for the New York State Troopers was enough to disqualify me as the 126th candidate on the list for that year.

Remember the first class of the civil service list for the firefighter in 1984, was sabotaged by my company officer.  At my final one-on-one evaluation with him he shared his real belief and concern that he might have to work for me one day.  I guess that was one of my earliest exposures to the big, to the lie of race replacement theory.

But I realized that his real fear was that I one day would be in a position to treat him as he treated me.  That was his real fear.

I retired as commissioner in the fire department.  My CO had been right, he would have worked for me had he not been killed in the line of duty.  I went to his funeral.  I prayed for him and I cried for him, just like I'm taught to do.

This is a story of every day of my life.  Every day I've been treated differently.  I've talked a lot about my mom.  I felt it was important for you to know what we go through.

No matter what opportunity you provide for us, we come to that opportunity with baggage, with trauma.  Our communities have been traumatized.

All of the statics, all of the things that you hear, this just didn't start on May 14th.  We've been living with this our entire lives.

When you provide these opportunities you need to understand that the people who are availing themselves are not equal.  Don't have the same opportunity.  Because they come with this baggage.

And these things are systemic.  They're intentional.  The violence that we're talking about here is not by happen chance.  None of these things are coincidence.

And I'm just here to ask you to consider that as you develop these opportunities.  I'm very thankful for your work.  But the truth of the matter is, we have to do some more work in our communities.  We have to prepare people for these opportunities and we have to deal with the trauma that they go through on a daily basis.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I appreciate that.  All right.  Well, we are going to move now to Ms. Hayward.  Thank you too for being here.

MS. HAYWARD:  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Appreciate it.  Go ahead.

MS. HAYWARD:  Good morning.  I would like to start off saying good morning.

I, Kimberly Hayward, worked within the Catholic Health System since June of 1999, but I left to pursue my degree in substance abuse counseling and the mental health.  I came back to Mercy Hospital after years of working in the field of substance abuse health.

In December of 2018, I was hired in the environmental service department, which is housekeeping.  The managers of environmental services are very disrespectful and rude to the African-American workers.

For example.  They would assign the Blacks more difficult floor assignments, which is known as the punishment floors, 5 east, west, north of the hospital within Mercy Hospital.

Because of the patient turnover rate, which would be a stat or an immediate clean, the White employees had way easier assignments, which I didn't complain that much at first because I am a hard worker at any job I have done or do.  But I also make sure that the rooms are clean adequately for patient's safety.

I did complain about being treated unfairly, differently from the White workers at Mercy Hospital.  After I complained to corporate compliance of Mercy Hospital I was then taken out of my area which I had for over a year.  Which was 2 main.  And they put me on like the harder, the punishment floor, which is 5 east, 5 west.

And also, starting at the time of the pandemic things had even got worse.  EVS workers did not get properly trained to clean COVID rooms.  We were told just to go in there and clean the rooms as normal, but just use the bleach and the Clorox.

To make matters worse, African-American workers cleaned majority of the COVID rooms on certain different floors.  On the difficult floors of ICU, 5E or north.

While Caucasian workers would refuse to clean the COVID rooms, so in other rooms, African-Americans were put in most dangerous jobs without being trained properly.  Or even wearing proper PPE.

At one time, one Black manager's supervisor asked the Caucasian worker to clean the COVID room and she refused by saying, we do not clean COVID rooms.  And she was pointing at her, pointing on her skin indicating that she was a White worker and she refused to clean the COVID rooms.

Another time, I was cleaning the COVID room most of the day and at the evening, because I worked 3:00 to 11:00, as it was getting later on in the evening my manager asked me to go down and do a COVID room on the 6th floor, which I was stationed on the 7th floor, because the girl refused to clean the double COVID rooms so he tried to make me go down and clean her COVID room floors.

At the end of my shift, that was at the end of my shift, so I was worried about getting it done so a co-worked of mine named Jessica, who was a White worker, offered to help me because she was done with her assignment.  The evening manager told Jessica no, meaning we, we don't clean rooms, I'm saying like the Caucasian people would not clean rooms, and that's just how it is done at Mercy Hospital.  Was told by the manager.

I worked full-time to make sure the rooms were clean for patient and staff safety.  My sister had become a patient at Mercy Hospital January the 4th.  In January of 2021.  She passed away January 4th of 2021, a few days after being in ICU.

But my managers would not let me leave my shift.  I wanted to be there with my family, but I had to clean rooms.  Which I missed the last moments of her life.

While at times there were Caucasian workers that had family members that also passed away with COVID, was allowed to go and spend time with their families.  And got the PTO time off.

Things need to be changed at Mercy Hospital.  I am no longer in the environmental service department at Mercy Hospital due to I could not keep accepting the treatment that was being handed down by the workers, which is METS.

METS is an outside contract worker who is running the EVS department at Mercy Hospital.

I tried at the beginning of my hire to contact corporate compliance about the managers and supervisors behavior towards the African-American workers.  But it didn't get anywhere.

I honestly tried to make it better for me and my co-workers but no one would listen in the HR department.  Or as far as corporate compliance.

Maybe they need to start listening to the workers now in how managers and supervisors are being treated.  Treating their workers.  And that's all I have about working at Mercy Hospital.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you, Ms. Hayward.

MS. HAYWARD:  You're welcome.

CHAIR BURROWS:  So with that, I will turn to our, to Maureen Kielt, from the EEOC Buffalo Office.

MS. KIELT:  They don't follow directions.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Okay, terrific.  All right, well, we will turn now for each Commissioner to have eight minutes of questioning.  And I will begin with Vice Chair Samuels.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Well thank you, Chair Burrows.  And thank you so much to --

CHAIR BURROWS:  I'm sorry, just a moment.  Did you have an opening statement, I thought you said you do not?

MS. KIELT:  No, I said I --

CHAIR BURROWS:  Oh, my apologies.  I misunderstood.  Please go ahead.

MS. KIELT:  No, that's fine.

CHAIR BURROWS:  We look forward to hearing from you.

MS. KIELT:  That's fine.  I feel very humbled to be here this morning.  And welcome the chair, the vice chair and the commissioners.  It's such a privilege to have you here this morning and hearing what we have to say and what our community has to say.

I'm going to share some information about cases that we have seen in our Buffalo office that has to do with systemic racism.  Some cases concern egregious facts.

Of the kind that reminds us overt and vicious discriminations from decades past.  Other cases present more subtle, and sometimes, systemic discrimination.

Temporary employees are particularly vulnerable to discrimination on various levels.  A temp agency might not refer them to jobs based on their protected class.  Or a temp agency may not refer them to a temp job based upon discriminatory requests from client employers.

One particularly exemplary and noteworthy case of such systemic discrimination concerned a local temp agency and a couple of its client employers.  This was one of the very first cases that I investigated as a new investigator in the Buffalo Office.  And it was quite intimidating but very eye opening for me.

The discriminatory practices at this temp agency were widespread and ingrained in the culture of the organization.  Race, sex, national origin, pregnancy, disability, age, retaliation.  We found all of those.  Different types of discrimination to be thriving at this agency.

The agency used racist stereotyping in its assignment process referring to Blacks as Tupper types.  Tupper is a predominately Black neighborhood in downtown Buffalo.

The agency employees use the term Tupper types often when discussing what kinds of temporary employees should not be sent to a certain client employer.  And also located in the same zip codes that were targeted in the events of May 14th at the Tops Supermarket.

Often that came at the request of client employers.  A number of such client employers were identified and included in the multi-party lawsuit brought against, regarding these practices.

Certainly client employers also made sex-based requests for temps.  Asking only that males be sent for jobs.

Disabled applicants and those perceived as disabled were also not refereed to temporary positions with the agency.  They were identified through the agency's pre-screening process, which contained unlawful questions about disabilities.

Similarly, those temps injured on-the-job ineligible for worker's comp were put in a special, do not refer drawer, at the agency in an attempt to limit its potential liability going forward.

This was a systemic case that affected hundreds of people.  But such cases usually begin with just a few people.  And rather a routine disability charge that was tipped off to the EEOC through our investigation led to a larger pattern of discrimination in this case.

During the pendency of the individual investigation, a current agency employee informed the EEOC that the agency had been systemically shredding documents in its conference room.  Those documents were thought to have direct evidence of discrimination on them.  For example, a bio form for a potential employee that might have Tupper type on the side.  Or in the margin.

Agency employees that alerted us that the potential temp was Black and thus not suitable for certain assignments.  The profile forms for some client employers might have no Tupper types to indicate that the client employer did not want Black employees sent to them.

The employee who alerted the EEOC to the shredding also gave EEOC details about the agency's discriminatory practices.  These practices were confirmed by numerous former agency employees who were interviewed as witnesses.

The agency harassed and then fired the employee in retaliation and continued to harass her after she was gone.  The EEOC filed suit against the agency and two of its client employers.  We entered into a decree that contained a $500,000 claims fund for the victims of discrimination.

Other cases that have come through the EEOC Office that point to the systemic discrimination.  A roofing company out of Rochester that subject individuals of color to name calling, racial epithets, comments, pictures and affected their ability to get a job, to get promoted, to become permanent, to have raises.  We settled that case for a million dollars.

A landscaping company that was nation-wide, same types of issues.  Inappropriate comments, name calling, racial epithets, the use of the N word.  Being called boy, being called gorilla.  That case we litigated and we ended up with a $1.5 million settlement.

We have a current manufacturer in the City of Buffalo, again, inappropriate testing, name calling, racial epithets, comments, nooses, name calling like using the N word, using the name boy.  These are continuing to happen.

And in my 20 year tenure plus years with the EEOC, it hasn't changed.  We need to have a direct type of way to address these.  And send a message to employers, and the community, that this type of harassment and ability to keep people down, who are just trying to make a living and support their families has got to stop.  The EEOC Buffalo Office is dedicated in that mission.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And now I will turn to questions from Vice Chair Samuels.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Thank you again.  And thank you so much to all of our witnesses today for your powerful, insightful testimony.

Mr. Whitfield, Ms. Everhart, thank you for sharing your personal stories.  And for our resilience in determination to turn your grief into real prospects for social change.

Dr. Taylor, thank you for your decades of scholarship on the roots of systemic racial inequities.

Ms. Kielt, your leadership of the Buffalo Office is inspirational to all of us in Washington.  Thank you so much for your work.

And Ms. Hayward and Ms. Coppola, thank you for being warriors for justice and for tackling systemic harassment.

I have many more questions than we likely will have time to get to today, but let me start with you, Dr. Taylor.  I hear you saying that Black residents of Buffalo are kept out of high paying working class jobs that don't require college degrees.  What can the EEOC, using the tools at our disposal, best do to help breakdown those barriers to those kinds of well paying jobs?

DR. TAYLOR:  I think one of the most important things is that we've got to begin to examine and identify the types of barriers that they use.  For a long time in the African-American community there has been this popular culture that said that high paying working class jobs disappeared after the industrial period.  And now the only way that you can only get a well paying job is with a college degree.

And so a lot of people have basically bought into that.  And it wasn't really until we started looking at the data on class exclusivity that we started to see this big distinction within the labor market, high paying working class jobs and Blacks.

And we've always been told we got to get more education.  More education, more education.  But when you eliminate the college graduates, African-Americans are doing okay at an educational level.  Obtainment level.  And in fact, the proportion of African-Americans with some college and no degree is higher than it is among Whites.

So from what we've seen is that in a lot of these higher paying jobs there are apprenticeship programs to them.  And if you're not given access to those apprenticeship programs you don't get in.

We've also believed that there are a number of barriers about union membership and the like.  We also think that there is a lot of unnecessary testing and other types of elements where the purpose of the test is not to determine who can do the job, but the purpose of the test is to exclude people from participating.

And we think that these are the kinds of artificial mechanisms, false claims, about qualifications that are needed, but not need.  So for example, and a big piece, huge, is the absence of on-the-job training programs.

From what we believe, many employees prefer folks who get on-the-job training then people of what we like to call trained in a bubble.  In a distant training program and the like and move forward.

The result of the lack of training gets translated into a harsh reality that Buffalo's east side has become a huge job market for White folks.  Let me be specific please.

Right now, based on our analysis, we've got over a billion dollars, maybe one to $2 billion of projects aimed for the east side that either plan or are being implemented.  Yet, we suspect that 90 to 95 percent of those dollars will flow to the east side like water through a sieve on route to White communities.  Primarily because they are the ones, the businesses will get the contracts and White workers will be doing the job.

So when they're announcing all of these projects that are going on in the Black community, you look out in the White community, they're popping corks, drinking champagne and smoking cigars because they know they're the ones.

So, we've got to figure out, how do we create innovative on-the-job training program.  We have to identify all of these incredible barriers that are keeping folks out of the high paying jobs that are available in this location in the area.  Thank you.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Thank you so much.  That's very helpful.  Let me turn to you, Mrs. Everhart.

You do diversity and inclusion work for a state senator.  What can you share with us about lessons learned, about effective practices that EEOC can promote in city and towns in rural areas across the country?

MS. EVERHART:  Absolutely.  So yes.  So, my job is director of diversity and inclusion for Senator Tim Kennedy.

And a lot of the work that I do in his office is exactly that, right.  I'm trying to figure out how are we training people, right.  Like, what does that look like.  How are we making sure that people are thinking about diversity in work, right.

And so one of the things that the senator did was draw up legislation in a bill, 3468(b), which would create an office of racial equity and social justice within the framework of the New York State government, right.

And so, our idea is that this office would be an oversight office for exactly the things that Dr. Taylor was just mentioning.  In that making sure that Black and Brown people on the east side of Buffalo get opportunities in those billion dollar contracts and things like that.

And also, in just training period, right.  In harassment training.  I know that everyone in this room has probably gone through a million of those harassment training, yearly trainings, right?

We talk about what to say to people, what not to say to people, how to act in front of people, how not.  And we've all gone through those trainings.

But the thing with those trainings is, they don't really get to the root, right?  And they don't talk about implicit biases.  They don't talk about microaggressions.

So I think that there needs to be a training that everyone across the country, in any job, should have to go through a training where they are taught about the things that they say.  Like saying boy, right?  Like Maureen just talked about.  Like that is such a microaggression, right.

And so I think that that is where the EEOC can come in to play in that supporting legislation that our legislatures are putting forward, you know, because Black people are humans, right.  And if we have, and if we're going to live in this country, it has to be equitable.

And the only way to get there is by learning.  And by learning about each other.  And we have to do that at the highest levels.  And that is directly on the job.  In the jobs you have to learn that you can't say boy to people, it's disrespectful.  Right?

And I think that that's definitely where the Senator's Office has played a huge part in trying to break down some of these things.  Thank you.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Well thank you so much.  I am sadly out of time.  And I do have more questions, which maybe I can ask the witnesses at a break.

I also encourage all of you to continue to be in touch with us and to take advantage of our online mechanism for providing additional commentary to us on ways the EEOC can best help to achieve the goals I know we all share.  So thank you all so much.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you Vice Chair.  And I will turn now to Commissioner Dhillon.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Thank you.  Again, thank you to all of the witnesses, in particularly, Ms. Everhart, Mr. Whitfield, thank you.

I think a lot of people in your situation would not have the courage and the grace to do what you are doing.  And what you're doing is important, so thank you for being here.

Dr. Taylor, as I was reading your work and then listening to you today, I am very interested in your thoughts around education.  Because that's a particular interest of mine here at the EEOC.

So, it's estimated that 130 million Americans struggle with literacy.  That they're ability to read is below the basic level of literacy, which is Level 3.

That means they may not be able to read things like labels on prepacked food or household bills.  But it also means, for purposes of the EEOC, they may not understand job postings, job applications, new hire paperwork, postings in the workplace.

According to Literacy New York Buffalo Niagara, approximately 30 percent of adults in Buffalo are considered functionally illiterate.  Which means that they read at a 5th grade level or below.  And in the combined population of Erie and Niagara County, 17.5 percent of adults read at or below Level 1.

And we know what the economic impact of the lack of literacy is on an employee's earnings.  So the average annual income of an adult at a Level 0 or Level 1 literacy rate is just over $34,000.  Basically minimum wage.  Level 2, the average income rises to $48,000.  And Level 3, $63,000.

What impact do you think literacy issues are having on workplaces in Buffalo?

DR. TAYLOR:  The first thing I want to say is, I think that the issue of literacy is a huge problem and a huge issue.  And it can be used as an excuse for certain things happening in the current.

I want to step back from that.  We're talking about now structures, but we also devolve back to the individual.  We talk about structures and then we create training programs for the individuals.

So when we talk about literacy and literacy's impact on employment, I would argue that that is a systemic structural racism issue.  Because if I need to learn to read something to do a job, you can develop literacy programs to teach me to read what I need to do the job.

It's systemic structural racism when you tell me I can't read so I can't get the job.  As opposed to saying, let's develop a training program around the reading.

If you have math limitations, let's develop innovative training programs around what you need to do this job.  If I'm an electrician, I need to put the wires together and I need to know this, that and the other.  Show me that on the job.

So the very idea that we want to use literacy in the richest country on earth as an excuse for Black people not having jobs, is systemic structural racism.  And we need to accept and acknowledge that.

And the question is not how much literacy illiteracy is, the question is, how can we design innovative programs in order to teach literacy in a fundamentally different way.  Why do we have all of these programs that teach literacy in a bubble, isolated and separated from the work that people do and then say, now we taught you how to read, go find a job.

So the issue is not literacy, the issue is systemic structural racism that has found a clever way to elevate literacy as a new barrier for jobs and opportunity for African-Americans.  We must understand.

This is not 1920.  Discrimination grows, it evolves.  It's like COVID.  Every time you stop B1, B3 comes out.  So we are dealing with a new sophisticated kind of discrimination.

You still got the primitive stuff, calling folks boy, but that's primitive.  They have developed a lot more sophisticated things.

So, back to literacy.  Literacy is an issue.  We tackle it by dismantling the structures and innovatively creating new ways to teach literacy in association with jobs and opportunities.  On-the-job training, literacy can work in a very different way.  Teaching literacy can work in a very different way.  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  And I think there is a fair amount, we have a fair amount of agreement on a lot of what you said.  But sitting here at the EEOC today, and given the statistics that I have just cited, and the fact that as an agency we deal in words.  You do on our website, it's a lot of words.

How can our agency, sitting here today, be impactful to reach people who I suspect need us the most, but right now, because of the barriers of literacy, don't access us as effectively as they can, and face barriers even to apply for a job?  So what do we do?

DR. TAYLOR:  I think we work downstream and upstream.  I think we have to create linkages that will encourage people to reach out so that they can use the exact services around discrimination and the like.

While at the same time I think EEOC can use its voice to call for more innovative ways of teaching literacy skills in relationship to work.  And again, I think we have to strengthen the literacy programs that are existing down on the ground, in the neighborhoods and the communities.

So it's a combination of working downstream while at the same time working upstream.  And in the process, identifying the specific things that you all can do both locally and nationally, to help within that framework.

But I think one of the big things is lending your voice to the creation of innovative types of ways of teaching literacy.  And calling on people on the literacy front to begin to create products and activities and demonstration projects that will show that we can teach literacy in a very, very different way.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Well, and since I have the good fortune of having our representative from Buffalo here, I'm just going to pose, briefly, in my remaining seconds, your thoughts around the challenges that literacy rates pose to the work on the ground that you and your colleagues do here in Buffalo?

MS. KIELT:  Well, to address what Dr. Taylor has already shared with us.  I think outreach into the community, which we have been, obviously true pandemic has really, it has really kept us out of the community.

I believe that going into the community, attending events, like Juneteenth.  Yesterday we attended services at Pastor Pridgen's church.  Things like this in the community make us visible to the community so people know where to come.  That we are available to them.  That we are accessible to them.

I always answer my phone.  And if I don't answer my phone I always return the call.  You'll get a call, if not the same day, you'll get a call within 24 hours.  I pride myself on that.

I believe that my office is very open to the community and accessible to the community.  And as we move from the pandemic constraints of the office, we will start to see more of that.  That I envision as inclusive to the city and the communities that embrace us.

So hopefully as we move along and we are able to get out there a little bit more, that's going to help stem that.  And working with individuals like Dr. Taylor.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  And that's great customer service.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And so, I will turn now to Commissioner Sonderling.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Thank you.  And, you know, this is just a really great discussion why we're here.

When I was at the U.S. Department of Labor we actually made adult cartoon videos to pop up on YouTube and Instagram for, you know, go where they are, right?

And you actually have little cartoon characters not getting paid overtime and the boss taking the money, right?  That resonates.  And I think that's really just a great conversation we're having.

But I want to make sure that everyone also has the opportunity to give their wise comments, so Mr. Whitfield and Ms. Hayward, these questions are for both of you as well.  You both told us stories about your own individual experiences in the workplace.

And some of the allegations you discussed against your own employer.  There is very complicated legal analysis behind, which is why you're represented by counsel and why the EEOC is here.

But from what you were experiencing, obviously those allegations, the employer can't do that, but it felt wrong, right?  You may not be a lawyer yourself, a labor employment lawyer, but you knew in your heart that this doesn't make sense.  Something is wrong here and I need to do something.

But on the backside of that, the laws we enforce, that Congress enacted in the 1960s and the 1990s, have been given you those protections probably for as long as everyone here has been in the workforce.

So, aside from just relying on your own intuition, your own gut feeling that this is racist, that my employer is doing something wrong and these shifts don't make sense or the stories you told us, what are we, first of all, what was your knowledge before all of this and before your lawsuit and before coming here, of the EEOC, of these federal employment laws and what could we be doing to make that a part of your employment so you're not just relying on your own instinct that I'm being treated unfairly, that you actually understand what your employer's obligations are to you and what, as employees, your rights in the American workforce are?

So I pose that to you because obviously tagging on to that conversation people just don't know.  They know it's wrong but they don't know what to do about it and where the bounds are of what's right or wrong.

So having both been in the workforce I'd be curious on your perspectives because we're here and we obviously can provide that information to the broader workforce.  And to your employers as well.

MS. HAYWARD:  I hope that the EEOC can understand that it has the power to make a big difference.  Like within the changes of the hospital, the racial discriminations and everything.

Because me as being one single employee, I can't do it alone.  But with a better agency can help with these type of situations.  In this racism and discrimination that's going on within the employment that I work.

The EEOC can also standup with us and hold these employers accountable for what they do to the African-American employees within their work system.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  From your perspective as an employee there, what more could we have don't to help you before this ever occurred for your employer?

I mean, what would be your ask from all of us here, taking away that you have all us, all five of us here, what can we do better and how can we prevent your situation from occurring?

MS. HAYWARD:  Just some diversity training within the hospital.  And some harassment training.  Not to be harassed and intimated by the managers and supervisors that is employed within the Catholic health system.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Okay.  And to you on this general theme of being in the workforce and knowing your rights?

MR. WHITFIELD:  Thank you.  Well, I've had the opportunity to be on both sides of this.  I have shared some of the stories that I have gone through personally.


MR. WHITFIELD:  But I have also been a part of the administration.  A part of the hiring process.

And just to dovetail on what Dr. Taylor said, one of the things that I realized early on was the inequity in the candidates that were coming to the fire department.  We had people coming from the suburbs who were in training programs, volunteer departments, had access to these experiences and that.  And they would move into the city and literally take the jobs from persons within the city who had none of those experiences.

One of the things we tried to do prior to retiring was build a training program over at East High School for the fire service, law enforcement and that where kids from our community would have the opportunity to learn about these different trades, these different careers and be able to compete with persons from out of their community when that time was made available to them.

So I agree with what Dr. Taylor said is, I think very, very important.  We have to prepare people for these jobs.  We have to be innovative.  We have to understand that just because they both put an application in, things are not equal.  Things are not equal.

We come to these opportunities with a lot of baggage and a lot of, you know, and without all of the other things that other candidates bring to it.  So I think there's a lot of work to be done there.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Thank you.  And, Dr. Taylor, first, University of Buffalo, I have a family member who went there so learned at a early age not to say University of Buffalo, University at Buffalo.  So those are my Buffalo credentials everyone.

But you run the Center for Urban Studies, urban internship program at your school.  And along with this conversation, of that internship program I want to hear about, is about this workforce development and some of these other issues.

But do you think there is an opportunity there from our perspective, when we're ingraining some of these skills in younger workers, but also teaching them about their rights in the workplace?

And so much is focused on skills and training and apprenticeships and all this, but how do we institute are knowledge of the federal employment laws and your just rights as a citizen in there, so at the same time you're learning how to do the trade, you also know, here's what you can't, shouldn't happen to you in the workplace?

DR. TAYLOR:  I actually think you ought to develop some innovative outreach programs.  I suspect in most people in Buffalo and across the country have no idea what the EEOC --


DR. TAYLOR:  -- is involved with.  They don't know what kind of laws exist on these records.  Nor do they know where the thin lines are between you're at breaking the law, you're not breaking the law.

Nor do they know the kind of advocacy types of things that are possible.  So I think the kind of outreach that's innovative, and I'm saying innovative in high school.

People go to the high schools and explain what legal rights folks have.  What's right, what's wrong.  And how you can influence and shape the law.  The law is just something that somebody wrote today.  You can write something else tomorrow.

And so, where we can think about particular things.  Or the EEOC can send us out messages.  You know, what if we had a law that demanded this or that.

So, my belief is that we need to sit back and begin to think, not only about what the existing law is, but what are the kinds of law that we need to put into place that will change the structure, that will change the way that we approach job training.

And I go back to the start point.  This urban legend that working class jobs disappear, they don't even call them that anymore, they hide those jobs, changes our way of thinking about this world.

And when people talk about replacement theory that is so popular amongst extremists, what do they really mean?

What they're really talking about is, how do we continue the working class monopoly on these higher paying jobs?

How do we do that?  How do we continue to allow White folks with just a high school degree to create wealth, have incomes that are very high, live in suburban communities?

So, the outreach that lets the population know.  I mean, I suspect if you went out on Jefferson Avenue and asked someone, what is EEOC, they probably say, is that a rap group.  And so, I think that that level of education is --


DR. TAYLOR:  -- important.  Early.  Very early.

And I think the other is beginning to work with folks in the local offices so we can begin to think about what are some new kinds of laws that would allow us to go after the current realities that we face, that go after this new form of color blind racism that didn't exist at the time that the agency was brought into being.


CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And now I turn to Commissioner Lucas.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Thank you.  And thank you all to the witnesses for your powerful testimony and for appearing here today.  It really is wonderful to be outside of D.C.  And I'm really grateful to be in a Lake Erie town.

Dr. Taylor, I've been very interested in your points about the bulk of the jobs that are not college degree related, but I did want to focus first on the 30 percent that might be related to college, that might require college degrees.

To what degree do you think that there is some racial disparate impact in terms of unnecessary college degree requirements or other credentialing requirements?

DR. TAYLOR:  I think there is probably a lot more than we realize.  I mean, for example, I'm struck when I go down the listing of positions that require an associate degree.  They don't just say some college, but an associate's degree.  And I'm thinking, well, if you got some college and didn't even think about an associate degree, what is involved in relationship to that.

I mean, as an academic, I know we are always, at the University, creating unnecessary credentialing to keep people out.  I mean, when I first got into the department of urban and regional planning, the entrance requirements for a master student was 2.5.  Now it's 3.0.

I have no way of discerning that these new students are any smarter than the other students that I have.  You know, I work with undergraduates, I work with high school kids.  And I can't make a distinguishing feature on that.

So I think it's a lot of that that goes on because when you have a large pool and a limited number of jobs, the idea is to create screening mechanisms just to keep people out.

I've also worked on admissions in the medical school and you have 200 slots and some 2,000 students who are applying.  Well we know that all 2,000 of those students could probably become good docs, but then you have to create barriers to keep out so you create the MCATs, you create this, you create that trying to get down to the slots that you have.

So in the workforce it's the same thing.  And we've created all of these unnecessary barriers.

And even in the job training programs.  Like at one of our highly talented job programs here, you have to take a test even to participate in the job training program.

So I don't know.  I think one of the things that we need to look at in a legal way is how do we come up with laws that go after this kind of unnecessary credentialing.  And at college level, a lot of those college level jobs, they don't really require a degree.

And we've reached a point now where people don't even care what the degree is anymore, all they care about is how quickly can you learn.  And that's the new thing.

I mean, as an urban planner, maybe 80 percent of the projects I work on, I didn't know anything about that stuff before I started.  So my right of passage, they said, well you do this, yes, can you give me a book.  And in 24 hours to 48 hours I'm ready to rock and roll.

Because it's not so much the degree it's the analytical records, the skills and the thinking skills.  So we have to figure out how to operationalize that in a way that creates more equity in terms of the possibility of people getting jobs and opportunities.

And understand that there are highly innovative ways that you can teach a range of skills.  And that everything doesn't have to be in a bubble that is a classroom isolated from the teaching experience.  From the working experiences itself.

They key to all of this, however, I think is the one the job training program.  And if we can figure out how to create some kind of legal fabric that would push society toward establishing these on-the-job training program where specific skills are taught.

Imagine this.  We've got $2 billion of projects coming to Buffalo's east side.  What if the residents over there were taught to do that work?

This would create a unique opportunity for them to rebuild their lives as they rebuild their communities.  Acquire skills as they transform the places where they live.

And that's the kind of innovative thinking that needs to go forward.  How do we redo things, how do we integrate on the job training programs with all of these advanced technics and how do we create laws that will allow us to recreate the framework in which work and opportunity is created in the United States.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Speaking of the apprenticeships, I did want to ask you more of that because I think that that's where you often see on-the-job training.  And I was also very struck by your mention that many of the jobs in the development that's going on in East Buffalo are apprenticeship.  I assume those are largely union related jobs?

DR. TAYLOR:  Well, we're talking not so much about East Buffalo as --

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Just in general.

DR. TAYLOR:  -- across the Erie County.


DR. TAYLOR:  We've been looking at just the, we started placing all of these jobs that require only a high school diploma or an associate degree or some college under a microscope so that we can just figure out how massive it was and the like.

And we started to discover that a number of these jobs and positions had apprenticeship programs attached to them.  So you have the training programs over here, like Buffalo, some folks call it ground central in terms of training program.  But out there in a lot of these suburban places they have these apprenticeship programs.

And a lot of this is new to us because we, like a lot of folks we didn't realize it was so many jobs in the region that did not require a college degree.  And so what we, at the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding what's going on, is seeing all these apprenticeship programs that are attached.

And we've heard of other kinds of requirements along those lines.  But this is a new, a venture for us.  A new venture for us.  Something that just emerged from the research that we did around the turning the corner project.  The harder we run project.  We have not turned the corner.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Well I'm running out of time, but I did want to flag that the EEOC has jurisdiction over unions.  So to the extent that apprenticeship jobs are primarily connected to unions, they said that they are seeing racial discrimination in unions --

DR. TAYLOR:  We need to put everything with an apprenticeship program under a microscope.  We need to see how many Blacks and other people of color, anything within the apprenticeship program that's union related, we need to put that under a microscope and look at all of the structures and everything else that they have in place.  And so I would put that at the top of the list here in Buffalo.


CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I think I have questions, first for Mr. Whitfield.  And I wanted to just acknowledge your very, very powerful remarks.  I don't think that, first of all, I'm so sorry for your loss, but I don't think many people could have spoken that eloquently, particularly in your circumstances.

And wanted to acknowledge as well that, you know, I do know of which you speak.  And what we are trying to do is get forward.  And I would love your thoughts on, you know, we're talking about, and so many people have talked about, like, what is it that brought someone who is so young to hate so much.

And we have this issue of racial harassment.  And you heard it from the Director of our EEOC Office Maureen Kielt, it spills into the workplaces in so many ways.

I'm happy to say that the EEOC does have a youth at work program.  And we go into colleges and high schools, very popular by the way amongst our staff.  We had to dial back a little bit in COVID, but that's really important and we want to do more of that.

But what do you, if you could have one ask of us for ways in which we could be helpful, or employers could be helpful, in looking at how to really address this issue of bias in our families, communities, workplaces, what role do you see for this Commission and for businesses, employers, what advice, if you had one, you know, one ask?

MR. WHITFIELD:  Thank you.  I think, quite frankly I think Dr. Taylor has touched on a number of the things that I would identify as important for this body to deal with.

The shooter here in Buffalo, in his manifesto, talked about how he had been harassed his whole life.  It wasn't by us, it was within his own community.  He was not harassed by Black folks.

So the bias and the things that we're talking about, the hate, it's not germane to us.  Certainly we have a disproportionate amount of it directed at us, but he felt ostracized.  He felt that he had nowhere to go and so he bought into this hate and this bigotry.  He had somebody to blame.

Systemically we are corrupted.  I mean, we keep on trying to do this patchwork thing but we've got to, as Dr. Taylor said, come up with some new ways of dealing with these issues.  We have to be honest about it.  We have to have these conversations.

I think it would be very important for you guys to get out into the communities and to let people know that you are available and what kind of work you do.  And that they have someone that they can go to.

Because much of what happens never gets reported.  People live with it everyday.  And they just get along.  And they go home and then they take it out on their families and they take it out on their loved ones and their communities and they don't even know why.

So I think that it would be important for this body to, again, get out into communities.  Let people know you're there.  Teach them how to use your services.

I may be calling you real soon about my children quite frankly, I mean, because I know about it.  But there is so many other people who don't.  So many other people who don't.

And I think -- and I don't know how you're aligned with the mental health community or anything like that, but we need help.  We need to treat this as an epidemic.  This is a health issue for us, make no mistake about it.  It's killing us, literally and figuratively.

So I think that if you guys could do some work in that area, that would be very helpful.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  We do work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services.  And obviously disability is, including mental health disability and all of those stress factors.  When disabilities arise from that, we have protections with respect to job discrimination.  But a great deal of those root causes really are beyond the EEOC's purview.  But I absolutely will share that with our friends at the Department of Health and Human Services.

I wanted to go to Ms. Everhart next.  Thank you again for being here.  It takes great courage.

And I was really inspired by your book drive.  I love to read.  And books to teach about racism and diversity inclusion, and also to help with literacy.  And since the shooting, you've spoken about the importance of that bridge to the next generation and teaching them about this nation=s long struggle with racial justice and how to answer those calls.

And so I know you've talked, you're aware of all the conversation about the economic and racial circumstances that made the East side of Buffalo a target.  And we've had a lot of discussion about this morning.  Systemic racism, segregation, economic barriers to opportunity.

And I'm wondering if you could also talk to us about how you see that, what that means right now for the East side of Buffalo?  And from your own perspective.  And frankly, how you see the employment piece of that as well, if you would?

MS. EVERHART:  Absolutely.  So, starting with the book drive.  So yes, we've collected actually now close to 15,000 books that we will be distributing across Western New York.

And those books are, they serve as a mirror for Black kids, right?  We're collecting these books to give them to Black kids so that they can see themselves, right?  And they can see themselves as humans.  And that they can see the great potential that lie within them, right?

But the bigger part of this book drive is getting these books in the hands of White kids so that they can get a window into the lives of Black people.  Right.  Because that's where racism starts, right, it starts at the child age, right?  We teach it.  Right.  Racism is taught.

Anger, hate, all of those things are taught.  Building walls is taught to children, right?  You don't look like them so you don't play with them.

And so for me, going back to this terrorist who caused this terror in my community, he was never taught about African-Americans in this country.  Right.  What he knows about African-Americans in this country he learned from a movie or on television.  He has never sat a dinner table with a Black family.

And that's America's fault.  It's America's fault because it's not taught to him in the curriculum.  It's not taught in the school systems.  We don't teach African-American.

You know, African-American history is American history, right?  You can't tell one without telling the other.  You have to tell the story of slavery in order to tell the story of America, right?

And so, we have to start looking at it, and that's what this book drive is about.  It's about getting books in the hands of kids and letting them know that Black people are humans.  Plain and simple.  That's what that is about.

And the employment piece is, like I said before for me, it's about training from the top down.  We have to teach the leaders of organizations, the leaders of businesses that Black people are humans.  And it has to start with trainings.

We have to implement those trainings.  And I think, again, the EEOC can play a huge role in making sure that our CEOs and presidents and doctors, right, and our lawyers, you know, everyone is getting trained on diversity, inclusion, equity.  What does that mean.  Microaggressions.  That's how we fix these problems.

And even in these apprentice programs, right?  Like Dr. Taylor said, we know those apprentice programs are built to keep Black people out of them.  Right?

Black people are not a part of these apprentice programs.  And then when they are a part of them, they make it hard for them to be there.  They talk to them in a certain way so they quit and they leave.  And then they're back on the street selling drugs.

That is the problem because we're not starting from the top down with these trainings.  We're not forcing these organizations and these businesses to be trained to understand that Black people are just like them.

This our country too.  We built it, it's ours.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I see I'm out of time.  I have so many more questions for each of you.  We will be in touch.  And I am just deeply honored that you were able to join us today, so I thank you.

So we will have, I believe, about a ten minute break.  And it is now 11:33, so we will reconvene at 11:43.  Thank you.

(Whereupon, the above-entitled matter went off the record at 11:33 a.m. and resumed at 11:43 a.m.)

CHAIR BURROWS:  So the hearing will now resume.  And I welcome back my fellow Commissioners and members of the public, who may be joining us in person, and also those who are joining virtually today.

And a very special welcome to second panel of distinguished guests for participating in today's listening session.  And for sharing your insights here today.  We are so grateful.

And with that, I'm pleased to introduce our second panel of witnesses in the order that they will be addressing us today.  I'll start with Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, who is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

The Community Foundation's mission is to connect people, ideas and resources to improve lives in Western New York.  And facilitate long-term transformative change in our communities in New York.

She has been working to -- and her work has attracted more than $93 million to Western New York to support the collective efforts of community partners.  Including the Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable.  And we welcome you today.

Next is John Somers, who is the President and CEO of Harmac Medical Products, Incorporated.  A medical device manufacturing company headquartered here in Buffalo with 1200 employees world-wide.

Under Mr. Somers= leadership, Harmac created the Bailey Green Initiative to improve and support the neighborhood around its East side Headquarters.  Where roughly one quarter of Harmac's 400 U.S. employees live.  Thank you for being here.

Next is Trina Burruss, who is the Chief Operating Officer of United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.  The United Way's mission is to bring people, organizations and resources together to create systemic community change.

Ms. Burruss joined the United Way in 2021 after 30 years in banking.  Most recently working as a senior vice president with Northwest Bank.  In addition to overseeing operations, Ms. Burruss manages diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the United Way.

Next we have Brendan Mehaffy, who is the Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Planning for the City of Buffalo.  Which coordinates economic development activities throughout this city.

And we are so grateful to be able to join you here at Buffalo as a representative of the City.  He was appointed to the position in 2010 after working as an attorney in the City's law department.  Prior to joining the City he worked in private practice and focused on land use, environmental and small business development issues.  Welcome.

And next, Kelly Hernandez.  Who is on the Board of Directors of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York, Incorporated.  A nonprofit that supports the promotion of the Hispanic community and its contributions to Western New York.  And the rich cultural and historical heritage here.

As a community relations specialist at Fidelis Care, Ms. Hernandez helps connect Buffalo's immigrant and migrant workers to programs that address their healthcare and other needs.

And I thank each of you for being here today.  As a reminder, you each have five minutes for your opening statements.  And if you will, just remember to hit the button on the right-hand side of your microphone before you begin.  Thank you.

I'll start with Ms. Bode Dedecker.

MS. PEREZ‑BODE DEDECKER:  Thank you, Madam Chair.  And Madam Co-Chair and Commissioners.

As an immigrant and a naturalized American it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Buffalo.  It is truly an honor to have you here paying attention to our community and finding ways that the fine work that is going on in our community can inform the rest of our nation at a very critical time in American history.

It is my honor to speak about the work of the greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable.  This is an effort that was launched in 2015 to compliment all of the very significant work that was already happening in our community to advance racial equity.

The Roundtable is a robust representation of business, nonprofit and government leaders.  In fact, our esteemed Mayor of Buffalo is one of the founding members, along with the President of this Council Chamber and Buffalo County executive and state officials as well.

The goal of the Roundtable, and you all have this diagram at your places which will give you a nice 50,000 foot view of eight years' worth of work, with over 350 partners.  The goal of the Roundtable is an expanded inclusive economy.  Three words that are aspirational and compelling in terms of building the future that our youth in Western New York deserve.  And that we all aspire to achieve.

There are three guiding principles to the work of the Roundtable.  It is rooted in data, hence the dividends report that you all have at your places as well, that actually quantifies the equity opportunity gap.

And talks about the economic impact of closing that gap for our region.  So it make a very strong and clear economic argument for equity in addition to the moral imperative that we have all long held onto.

It is focused on systems change.  So addressing systemic gross structural racism.  That is where we add unique complimentary value to the very important programmatic work of the Roundtable.

And it is also driven by calling people into the work.  We began with 32, we have over 350 partners.  I do hazard to say that calling in is working.  It is a coalition of the willing that creates on ramps to this body of allies to promote in advance this goal.

It has ten new truly reinforcing interconnected initiatives.  If you picture these as all having threads, all of these threads circle through all of the initiatives.  It is all quite complementary.

And in order to advance the systems change in the face of systemic racism, it is imperative that we build the capacity of organizations and their leaders to do work in new ways.  There is a lot of ignorance.

Our educational system, if you reflect back, depending on the age, I know that it's improving and getting better.  But I have a master's degree in education and these topics were simply not part of my educational experience in terms of building an equitable inclusive workplace and understanding how we got here.

So in the absence of good information you fill in the blanks with whatever the mass media serves up to our community.

So the Roundtable and our partners are committed to creating awareness about the competitive advantage of having a diverse and inclusive regional business climate through employer education, talent recruitment and procurement.

We look at the systems.  The blue circles are looking at six difference systems in the areas of workforce, workplace, criminal justice and education.  These are interrelated.  You can actually trace the line for how these are interrelated.

And we are looking at six specific systems that are pregnant with opportunity and yet present significant barriers to opportunity.  The racial equity impact analysis at 11 o'clock, in the dial if you will, is a key piece in that critical first step of awareness to overcoming the challenges that we are facing with actionable tools and accountability.  You need all three.  Awareness, actionable tools and accountability.  Which is where your Commission can play a significant role.

And I'll also highlight down at 7 o'clock in the dial, employee Buffalo Niagara, the work of the benefits cliff calculator coupled with the HR toolkit.  So actionable tools that are plug-in-play that employers can access as to how the policy should look that will help you build a thriving, connected, engaged workforce.  So I look forward to your questions.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you very much.  And now I'll turn to Mr. Somers.

MR. Somers:  Yes, good morning.  Thank you for the opportunity to share our story.

As mentioned, I'm John Somers, President and the CEO of Harmac Medical Products.  We're a privately owned contract engineering and manufacturing company headquartered in East Buffalo.

We started here in East Buffalo 40 years ago and have grown, adding two wholly-owned divisions.  One in County Roscommon Ireland and one in Tijuana, Mexico.

We manufacture complex single-use medical devices for some of the most respected Fortune 500 companies around the world.  We employee over 400 associates here in Buffalo and have grown to over 1,200 globally.

I joined the company in 1991 and became the president in 2000.  And we have grown mature as a company, we realized we needed to develop a vision statement and provide a North Star for all of our employees to follow.  This was a process during which we leveraged insights across our whole international leadership team.

During the process we realized three things that were most important.  The patients we serve, our employees at Harmac and the communities in which our facilities are located.

After working through many iterations we agreed to our vision.  And our vision as Harmac is changing the lives of patients, employees and the communities in which we work.

This is a living, breathing vision.  We at Harmac spend our days focusing on supporting these three pillars.

We employee over 40 nationalities across our whole company.  And over 20 countries are represented here in East Buffalo.  We believe that diversity strengths us in leveraging that diversity yields positive results.

Our culture is built on honesty, integrity and respect.  Which is one of the ways we build bridges across all the employees in our company.

Let me share a few more insights on our vision and regarding our three pillars.  Changing the life of the patients.  Quality is the most critical factor in our company and we continually reiterate this across all our employees.

It's also important to note that everyone's role in responsibility directly impact the lives of the patients we serve through the medical devices we manufacture.  This spans all roles at our company.

Whether you're a quality engineer designing product validation programs, an operator assembling products or a facilities maintenance person keeping the tacitly clean.  So when everybody walks in, in the morning to a shiny clean building, they feel positive and they're engaged to focus on changing the lives of the patients we serve.

For our employees we believe it's important to positively change their lives.  So we have developed the ranger program to support their well-being.  Trying to make life a little bit easier, we're assisting them with career opportunities.

Some of the programs we've implemented in our Buffalo site include the following.  Providing a pray room along with a flexible scheduling system to enable people to pray, along with building a foot washing station.

We provide tuition reimbursement for our employees and college scholarships for their dependents because we believe education is critical in bettering the lives of our employees and their families.

Providing an onsite fitness center, lactation room, fresh food daily in the cafeteria and subsidized fresh fruit delivered onsite so our employees can take it home because we recognize their well-being.

We also provide an onsite social worker.  And we've been doing this for five years.  Who confidentially meets with employees one-on-one to help with their challenges.  For example, transportation, child and elderly care, benefit programs and mental health support.

We realize when an employee does not show up to work on time or misses a day, that it sometimes can be due to issues beyond their control.  We try to support them and help them solve these challenges.

And lastly, we provide a free week of summer camp, which is a fun program we started for any employee's children or grandchildren.  I always wish maybe I was 6 years old again I could go, but this includes places like the Museum of Science, Jim Kelly Football Camp or Buffalo Seminary, which is a local, private, international girl's school.

And one short story to share.  Six years ago one of our quality technicians, who had a high school equivalent degree and no college graduates in her family, took advantage of the summer camp for her daughter and sent her to Buffalo Seminary.  Her daughter was so excited after the first week she returned for a second.  She became so excited about learning she changed her high school.  After graduating, or before graduating, she applied to college.  And she just recently graduated with a four-year degree.  The first in her family.

And on the community side in East Buffalo we started the Bailey Green initiative 12 years ago to support the 65-acre neighborhood in where we live.  Due to the instability in the neighborhood over the past decades we almost relocated our company out to the suburbs when we realized that 25 percent of our employees lived in the zip code.  With that understanding we knew we couldn't abandon our employees and so we began to invest in the neighborhood.  And we're located on Bailey Avenue so we came up with the name of Bailey Green.

In 2015, through a teamwork with the University of Buffalo Architecture and Urban Planning School, we crafted a strategic vision for this neighborhood.  And as that vision greens to reality, we thank our partners who shared our passion for the East side.

Habitat for Humanity has built 15 homes and thought in 15 wonderful families into the neighborhood.  Of the first five families, three of the members became employees of Harmac.

Groundwork Martin Gardens, Market Gardens, led by Mayda Pozantides and Anders Gunnersen, converted a two and a half acre abandoned land into a certified organic farm growing and selling fresh vegetables to over ten restaurants in town.  In addition, they help the neighbors grow their own vegetables and they provide free produce to over ten families in the neighborhood.

The Western Economic Initiative, other known as WEDI, started the micro-loan program in 2009.  And has loaned over $1.4 million to 113 minority owned intercity business owners.  They're expanded in the East Buffalo and selected Bailey Green for their second site.  Harmac, along with other partners, will be donating and renovating a building for their new office.

And lastly, the Western New York Peacemakers have been a positive influence in Bailey Green and will soon be a more constant presence and will provide support for the neighborhood with their youth mentoring and anti-gang initiatives.

We continue to expand our initiatives and partners to bring safety, health and opportunity to this East side neighborhood.  Thank you for the opportunity to share our story.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I'll turn now to Ms. Burruss.  Go ahead.

MS. BURRUSS:  Thank you so much, Commissioner Burrows.  And I want to thank the EEOC for coming here to our community today and allowing us to be part of this very important discussion.

I am here on behalf of the United Way, but more importantly on behalf of the community members.  The 40 percent who live in financial hardship.  I am honored today to bring you just some remnants of their story.

At United Way we focus on, and we believe that there are three main pillars that are affecting this population.  They concern issues of financial stability, education, as well as various health initiatives.

The COVID pandemic uncovered deep systemic inequities and injustices that have long been festering.  And the tragic shooting at Tops on May 14th, and its aftermath, clearly demonstrated that those inequities and injustices run deep and they will take tremendous collaboration, policies and resources to address these issues.

Addressing systemic inequities and promoting economic justice are critical in building an equitable and thriving community.  Our efforts focus on specific population that is often overlooked.  While 13 percent of Erie County's residents live below the poverty level, an additional 27 percent can be classified as ALICE.  And ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed.

These are households that have incomes above the federal poverty level.  But despite working more than one job, their wages are not enough to support a household survival budget, just the basics.  Like housing, utilities, food, childcare, medical care, and technology.

It is important to note that these numbers influencing the federal levels are not commensurate with the current cost of these necessities.  When we look at the total population living in financial hardship, the 40 percent of Erie County households that are either below the poverty level or in the ALICE category, there is significant inequities we find in the data.

Twenty-six percent of White households live in financial hardship.  But that number increases dramatically to 36 percent for Hispanic households and 38 percent for Black households.

Although much has been made recently of the great resignation, people have been leaving their jobs for higher paying opportunities.  This option sadly is not available to everyone.

Low wage jobs dominate our west New York economy.  For example, retail sales, fast food workers, home health personal care aids, secretaries, administrative assistants and cashiers.  The median hourly wage for these jobs ranges from about $12 an hour on the low end to $20 an hour on the high end.

The federal poverty level for a family of four is $26,200.  An incredibly low number.  But the ALICE threshold, what it takes just to get by for that same family size, is $76,908.  So based on a 40-hour work week, a family would have to be earning nearly $37 per hour to hit that mark.

Looking at the wages for our communities most common occupations, the struggle for families in financial hardship is clear.  If we, as a community, are going to break the cycle of financial hardship and advance racial and economic justice in the workplace, we have a lot of work to do, but we most do it together.

Some of the ways we try to do this work is by convening an ALICE advisory council.  This is made up of individuals who are the stories behind the statistics that I stated.

We have programs such as work life solutions that are providing support for those issues that are none work related, but emerging and prevent employees from being able to show up as they would like.

We're doing work with the federal government to bring programs such as VITA into our community to provide free tax refunds to individuals and bring awareness to the various programs that are available, such as the EITC and the child, the CTC.

These things are all critically important.  And we recognize this at United Way.  And again, I want to thank you for coming to our community and allowing me a moment or two to talk about the ALICE population and those living below the federal poverty level.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you very much.  And I'll turn now to Mr. Mehaffy.  Please go ahead.

MR. MEHAFFY:  Well thank you very much for the opportunity.  Thank you for the, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for pursuing its critical mission and for coming to Buffalo to hold this listening session regarding advancing racial and economic justice in the workplace.

Also seeking input on your priorities for the next five years and addressing racial and economic justice in the agency's 2022-2026 Strategic Enforcement Plan.

It's also an honor to speak with these speakers here today and the others that have been on the panels.  And the point that I intend to address today is the relationship as a fellow government entity that in this region, government is one of the largest sectors of employment.

And under the leadership of Mayor Byron Brown, the employees of the City of Buffalo now reflect the population that they serve.  The City of Buffalo has the most diverse and inclusive workforce in its history.  This did not happen by accident, this was the result of vary intentional effort by the Mayor and the Council in the City of Buffalo.

Mayor Brown signed executive orders directing executive staff and city government to search for the most diverse pool of candidates as part of the hiring process.  In effect, the Mayor formalized the (inaudible) rule for city government.

As a part of hiring process, the City of Buffalo reaches out to community organizations.  Organizations representing the minority professionals and many others to, again, make sure that pool is as diverse as possible.

In the areas of city employment, we're finding a diverse pool of candidates is an issue, the Brown Administration is taking active steps to prepare minorities for the opportunities and positions.

BPD21C was created to actively recruit and educate a diverse and talented group of future police officers who reflect our city's demographics.  Training programs for lifeguards and other laborers within the City of Buffalo are also undertaken.

There are also efforts focused on returning citizens specifically.  A population that is disproportionately minority, to make sure that they are able to take advantage of the workforce opportunities of city employees.  And also with our contractors where we partner with the center for employment opportunities to assist with the work that we undertake in our neighborhoods.

Work has been undertaken to introduce our youth and young adults to the employment opportunities in the City of Buffalo through the Mayor's summer youth program, the VISTA program and many others.  In some creating a diverse workforce in the City of Buffalo did not just happen, it took significant effort.

The Brown Administration efforts to create a strong and diverse community in Buffalo extends beyond our role as an employer.  We use our contractor power and resources to pursue the goal of inclusion in every employment sector in Buffalo.  Negotiating community benefits into all significant economic development projects that have both MWBE and workforce goals.

The hiring of the City of Buffalo's first chief diversity officer, and one of the first in the country.  Vigorously monitoring our contracts to ensure compliance with local, state and federal diversity requirements.

And Office of New Americans.  Again, the Mayor's summer youth introducing our youth from our neighborhoods to many of the different employers in the City of Buffalo.

Partnerships with Say Yes.  The creation of an MWBE business exchange called the Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center.  The creation of the Northland Workforce Development Center, and many other things.

The Brown Administration embraces our City's diverse and competitive economic strength.  And the more inclusive we are as a region the stronger we will be as an economy.

I hope that this Commission will see the critical role the municipal government plays in achieving inclusion and equity in both its own workforce, and also the region=s.  But to this end, a critical point that this Commission must take to heart is that the direct influence of the Brown Administration stops at our city borders.

Three quarters of this region's population lives outside the City of Buffalo.  Most of the majority population in this region lives outside of the City of Buffalo.  While Buffalo's population grew during the last census, Buffalo's White population decreased significantly.

EEOC should always keep in mind that the government structure changes significantly between regions in the United States.  Unlike many municipalities across the country that have powers of annexation, Buffalo's boundaries have not changed meaningfully since 1832.

There is no consistency of effort among municipalities in the Buffalo Niagara region.  This creates a patchwork of priorities and commitments to racial and economic justice.

All too often the questions of inquiry on this topic are directed at the City of Buffalo, but this leaves elected officials and public servants representing the vast majority of our region's population out of the conversation.

Arguably those with the greatest stability to impact racial and economic justice in the Buffalo Niagara Region do not live in the municipality where this listening session is being held.  This is where the vast majority of the region's wealth resides, the ability to employ, the ability to invest and the ability to effectuate change.

To this end the EEOC should consider, in the strategic enforcement plan, municipal governance and the role of municipalities more explicitly as the agents who change or protectors of the status quo.

Specifically in the plan where it refers to the effective national law enforcement agency, the Commission must focus on those activities that have strategic impact.  It is significance of a particular issue and potential outcome that determines the strategic impact in addition to the number of individuals affected.

Consider what role the EEOC can play in encouraging municipalities outside of urban areas to pursue programs like those created by the Brown Administration.  Consider how the EEOC can advocate for greater financial support for municipalities like the City of Buffalo to create more programs of those listed above or to expand them.

Typically municipalities like the City of Buffalo with greater minority population have a more limited tax base to address these needs as opposed to surrounding municipalities with majority populations.  To that end I thank you for your time and your attention for this particular topic and look forward to the discussion.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And we turn now to Mr. Hernandez.  Please go ahead.

MS. HERNANDEZ:  Good morning.  My name is Kelly Hernandez and I thank you all for inviting me to this important session.

I believe, and respectfully to the Members of the EEOC, thank you so much for coming here and taking the time find out what the challenges are and what the barriers are that are preventing some of our immigrant population members from obtaining jobs and obtaining opportunities.

My story.  I came from Columbia South American when I was 11 going on 12.  I did not speak English when I got here.  So, I want to give you this example because this is the full circle of my own experience and how my life progressed as I came to Buffalo.

From the start of my mom enrolling me into school, to make sure that I went to a bilingual school where I took ESL classes and learned English, but I also maintained my Spanish because I was taught in both languages.

Having the strength to be able to accept the new culture that was before me, coming to the United States, but also understanding that the only we were going to get ahead, my mom, when we arrived here spoke English, she did.  But some of the challenges that she faced was transportation.  How to get to a job that might not have been local in our community.

A lot of immigrants that come to Buffalo do not have a car right away.  So we need partnerships with agencies that can say, okay, we can provide maybe transportation, maybe a bus pass, so that people can get to jobs.

The other challenge that we have heard being presented have been bus stops.  The City of Buffalo has a great bus system, but some of the bus stops do not go outside of the City of Buffalo, where some of the employers are located.  Whether it be in manufacturing and things of that nature.

Another example I'd like to use is education.  When I came, like I said, the City of Buffalo and the person that went before me has mentioned, has done a great deal of investing.

Board of education, Buffalo public schools does a tremendous job in accepting our immigrant families and making sure that the kids are enrolled in school and making sure that language translation is provided so that children can keep up, I'm sorry, the parents can keep up with what children are going through in the schools and the processes that they need to go through.

However the parents, I believe where the lack is, are not receiving enough information with where employers are hiring.  Maybe we need to have more job fairs in diverse communities.

Although the City of Buffalo is setting up job fairs at this time, we have a lack of translation.  We need to make materials available in different languages so that people know where these job fairs are taking place.  We need to have people have transportation to get to the job fairs as well.

There needs to be a direct liaison between the employers and the employees.  There needs to be a middle agency if you will.

If there was a way to have the employers reach out to the community and say, hey, we need X amount of employees to fulfill X amount positions, how do we connect that employer with an agency that will fulfill or that will gather the employees to go out and work, but if there is an issue, if the company has an issue with an employee, how do they connect to someone to say, how do we repair that relationship.  Basically looking for liaisons.

The agencies that we do have, whether it be the settlement agencies, whether it be where people go to look, for example, we have the BETC, which is the Buffalo Employment Training Center.  They're going a great job at presenting job fairs.  However, how do we get the information in the communities where there are able bodies to work, they just have the language barrier.  I think that's the biggest challenge is the language barrier.

So connection to employers, connecting the employees to agencies that can help them find the jobs, providing transportation.  Those I think are the key elements that we need to work on.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  All right.  Well, I thank you very much.  And following that I will turn now to questions from the Commissioners, beginning with my colleague Vice Chair Samuels.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Thank you, Chair Burrows.  And thank you so much to all of you for making the time to talk to us today.  Your insights are immensely valuable as we think about how EEOC can best marshal its resources to support vulnerable communities on the ground in Buffalo, in surrounding areas and around the country.  So this is must extraordinarily valuable for us.

I have more questions than I can possible cover in my allotted time, but I will do my best.  Let me start with Ms. Dedecker.  Thank you for the materials.  I look forward to reading them.  And congratulations on your initiative in establishing the racial equity roundtable.

My question for you is, how do make programs like this scalable and whether EEOC can play some kind of bridging or convening role that could enable local entities of the sort that you've gathered here to come together to promote nondiscrimination principles, economic well-being and improvement of the infrastructure of communities to support equity?

MS. PEREZ‑BODE DEDECKER:  This is a big tent approach.  And it relies on the premises of public-private partnerships.  Government, business and the nonprofit sector have complimentary assets.  And none of us can get at this alone or independently.

We can't program ourselves out of structural racism.  We have to work together upstream, earlier professor Taylor talked about the upstream and downstream.  You have to do both.  It's not an either or.

And the 350 plus partners that are right around these ten tables, are the front-line experts, right?  But working together with an organization like ours, a community foundation which you will have those across American, are wonderful platforms for creating that safe space for the public-private partnership to set shared goals, engage in shared learning.  There is a lot we don't know, so we assume.

And setting the record straight.  When you have bank presidents telling you in earnest that they had never heard of redlining and they have a significant book of business around mortgages, we have a long haul ahead of us here.  We have to do it with intentionality and with urgency.  Right.  Both.

And the best way to get at it is to take the best of the for-profit sector, the government public sector and the nonprofit sector, including organizations like United Ways and community foundations and community organizations, like the Hispanic Heritage Council, putting everyone in a room.  That's a rare picture.

Think about it.  It is rare to have people at the table together learning from each other and getting the full, you know, the full picture of the systems that you're trying to change and then setting priorities together as to how we're going to work together and how we're going to measure the progress that we have committed to collectively.

Process is not sexy, but process is absolutely primordial in order to get the systemic change that we need to happen in our communities.  That takes facilitation, it takes time.  It takes breaking bread together.  Everyone has to eat breakfast and lunch.  And none of the members of the roundtable have the roundtable in their job description.

You heard from Zeneta Everhart earlier, she is one of our key partners, along with Senator Kennedy.  So putting the voices at the table, including the voices with lived experience, will get our community to higher ground.

And is in fact delivering results in our community, around these six blue circles representing the priority systems that we collective identify.  Are they everything that needs to change, absolutely not.  But you can't do it all.

So we prioritized those systems that we felt created the greatest barriers and held the greatest promise for enhancing opportunities for the people that are served, or not, by these systems.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Thank you so much.  I think it's a terrific model.  Let me turn to Mr. Somers.

The work that you are doing at Harmac is remarkable.  We know that from the literature that commitment from the top is something that really matters in infusing inclusion, equity, diversity through a workplace.

How can EEOC help to convince CEOs of companies across the country that this is something that is not only the right thing to do but also in their enlightened self-interest as business people trying to create good products and maintain a workplace that complies with the law?

MR. SOMERS:  It's a challenging question.  I think we need to get people to think outside of their day-to-day process and realize that engagement is really what's critical.

And I talk a little bit about the why.  And I think everybody in the world needs a why.  And a lot of times we get hung up on what.  What we do.

And I think the role of the CEO is really to build that vision.  And that draws people in.  And if people believe in the why of the company, then they fully engage across their range of skills and capabilities.

I think changing someone's viewpoint is not easy.  And that's, I think, the challenge.  And I think that for those who have been given more opportunity than others, I think we have a responsibility to give back.  And I think that's the crux of the question for the CEO.

And what are CEO's doing to give back to their communities and to their employees.  And from simple things, like planting a tree outside their front door, to helping a neighbor repaint a porch.  I mean, I think what we have found is building trust is one person at a time.  It's one handshake at a time.

And several people have questioned us about Bailey Green and why haven't you spoken to the whole community.  I said, I don't feel comfortable speaking to the whole community at one time.

And I've reached out to people one at a time and we've helped repair a garage door and fix a fence.  And that's how we've created it.

I think having those kinds of conversations with CEOs about the goal is to add value to the world, what are they doing in that area and how are they reflecting on that.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Thank you, that's helpful advice.  With my 40 seconds remaining let me turn to Ms. Hernandez.

A question for.  My concern is that immigrant communities may feel intimated by the idea of approaching government agencies.  Do you think that's true and how can EEOC help to overcome that and make clear that we are here to help, we do not care about whether people are undocumented, our doors are open to anyone who feels that they've been subject to discrimination?

MS. HERNANDEZ:  That's a wonderful question.  I think that education is a key.  We believe that education on the processes that we have established in this country, that information needs to be provided to folks as soon as they arrive.

Right at that resettlement agency when they're learning about the basic needs.  You know, shelter, food, you know, health needs.  They should also learn, okay, this is the process of, if something, and I meant to say this earlier, providing an educational curriculum.  Something where the new Americans, the new arrival immigrants, can learn about the process of, a, hiring, interviewing, all of those things.  But also about the things that are against the law.  The things that they should not be dealing with, or be putting up with per say, once they are hired.

So it's all about education, in my opinion.  We need to be informing them.

I had an opportunity to work at the Department of Labor with the Division of Worker's Rights.  And all of that information I believe now is being translated.  For example, for folks who work in manufacturing, what are the hours, what are some of the key specifics that would be violations.  Also for anyone working in the food industry.  Those are things --

And I mentioned those two industries because a lot of our immigrant community is working, whether it be retail, food industry, and also manufacturing.  So they need to know what the law is.  And all that documentation needs to be translated.

And people need to know that it's okay for them to come and look for help so that they're not afraid.  But it starts when they get here.  I know it's a lot, it would be overwhelming, but I think we should put out the information.  Thank you.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Well thank you.  Thank you so much.  And thanks so much to all of you.  I have so much more that I'd love to know, so I really do look forward to our continued dialogue.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you, Madam Vice Chair.  I turn now to Commissioner Dhillon.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Thank you.  And let me also extend my thanks to all of the witnesses for your being here today.

Mr. Mehaffy, in the last panel we heard discussion about what sounds like an encouraging development, which is a fair number of large scale construction projects, infrastructure projects, that are coming to Buffalo.  Including East Buffalo specifically.

But we also heard concerns about the potential role of union apprenticeships and how that might be excluding otherwise qualified individuals from participating in those union jobs.  And so I was wondering, as representative of a municipality, what kind of influence can you have, what kind of steps can you take to help make sure that everyone has an opportunity to apply for and be considered for those jobs, even jobs where it's strongly encouraged, I know when federal dollars come along these states strongly encourage they be union jobs?

And then also as my colleague, Commissioner Lucas pointed out, the EEOC has jurisdiction over unions.  So what can we do and what can the municipality do?

MR. MEHAFFY:  Well I think there is a lot, there's a lot of different ways to approach it so I'll talk about the Brown Administration in terms of right off the bat, in terms when the economic development project is being put together and the deal is being struck that, again, we negotiate community benefits into those agreements.

Those community benefits have strengthened with time for us where we have both workforce and also business ownership goals in them.  It's strengthened because we're also looking to things that might not have been monitored as much in the past.

We are stepping up our monitoring as well to make sure that we meet that.  So that's one aspect in terms of creating the demand within our community for a diverse workforce and diverse employment.

The other aspect then is also making sure that we're creating, we're making the match with individuals that are seeking the opportunities, or individuals that might be seeking some type of opportunity.  So the employment and training programs are really critical to do for the workforce.

And then as I mentioned, the creation of the Beverly Gray Business Exchange, which focuses on MWBEs, is to create the businesses as well that could take advantage of the opportunity.

We found ourselves some time ago in a position where everybody was saying nobody is doing enough.  So creating the space where we can create that bridge between the demand and the supply is really critical in being cognizant of, of again, where those opportunities are.  Seeking actively recruiting, again both workers and businesses.

So, the other aspect of that as well, to the point of leadership and the individuals who are driving the projects.  We've also worked very intentionally to diversify our development community in the City of Buffalo so that the individuals who are proposing the projects actually come from the neighborhoods or are from the minority populations.

So in terms of the push at that point in time.  It's not, you know, it's not a sell at that point, they get it 110 percent.  So we've worked very hard to create a more diversity, a more diverse development community in the City of Buffalo as well.

So those are the different types of strategies.  And there is a number of strategies that need to be pursued.

From the union perspective, one of the things specifically that we've talked about is where those union jobs are located.  I think in terms of sending a message, in terms of access to local populations in the City of Buffalo is critical as well.  So I think that that's part of the conversation.

I think transparency from the unions is also critical to say, as demand is being created, where do you see gaps in terms of diversity with the pools of labor that you have and not waiting for the development project to come along or the opportunity to come along, but being part of actively creating it before the demand is even created.  So I think those are two things specifically with unions that are critical.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Well that's interesting.  We actually had a hearing earlier this year that focused on various aspects of the construction industry.  And I was struck this morning listening to some of the discussion around union apprenticeships because we heard similar concerns being around, at that hearing, women who were trying to access those union apprenticeships and get into those union jobs.

So it's just very interesting to hear the parallel concerns at that earlier hearing and now hearing them here today.

Mr. Somers, thank you for being here.  One thing I wanted to talk to you about, and we heard a little bit about it on a prior panel, and I know in my prior life in the private sector something that the company I was working for was focusing on, which is this notion of kind of over credentialing.

This credentialing creep that we have seen that jobs that used to perhaps require a high school diploma now suddenly require a bachelor's degree.  And it doesn't even necessarily even been a bachelor's degree that's necessarily related to the job, it just has to be that degree.

And I'm wondering, you know, and as we started to work on it, again, in my prior life, was kind of amazed by what had occurred.  And I'm just wondering if that's anything you've observed, or in your talks with your CEO colleagues, if they're seeing the same thing and your thoughts around that issue?

MR. SOMERS:  It is an interesting question.  And I had the pleasure to be on the board at the community foundation with Clotilde.  And Brendan and I have worked together on multiple public partner projects.

And with our head of human resources we've actually talked about this issue.  And I think companies, in general, I think they're intent is probably to drive the capability of opportunities and sophistication within their companies without all of a sudden realizing they're putting barriers in place.

And so, Harmac is actually in the midst of rewriting those job descriptions so that we are looking for people who have the energy, the commitment, the drive for education, not just the degree.  And I think there is a balance there.

And I think maybe there have been studies shown that if there is a job description, and it has a whole list of requirements, in general men say, I have close enough, I'll go for it, right.  But women go, I only have 95 percent, I'm not qualified.  And that's exactly what you don't want.

We have a person at Harmac who has been with us maybe four or five years from Africa.  He had an accounting degree that was not recognized in the United States.  And a year or two ago we posted an internal job, because we post 100 percent of our jobs internally.

And we asked for, we were looking for a chief accountant.  And he came up to us, great person, and he said, you know, I have this degree from Africa, it's not recognized in the United States.  And we said, welcome aboard.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Well, and I think one of the other areas where you see over credentialing, perhaps inadvertently excluding qualified applicants, is folks who are coming out of the military.  Who may not necessarily have a college degree but have acquired amazing skills, including leadership skills.

And so, addressing that kind of credential creep also attracts another segment of the population.

MR. SOMERS:  Yes.  And just to add one more thing.  There is also, I mean, for people like working in the warehouse and forklift truck certification.  So there are requirements for safety also.

So I think we all have to have multidirectional communication on this because we don't want to inadvertently block anybody, we want to provide the educational opportunities.  But we also want to have a safe environment.

So, like a lot of things we all pursue, it's never a straight line.  But I think we need to ensure that everybody is honest and open.  We have multidirectional conversations to encourage applicants who want to grow and learn to apply for the opportunity.


CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I turn now to Commissioner Sonderling.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Thank you, Ms. Burrows.  I want to talk about United Way and something that I know is very important to workers, to families and the Commissions.  And that's the whole issue related to caregiver discrimination.

And although it's not technically a protected characteristic, we see a lot of discrimination related to having caregiver responsibilities.  Whether it's for children or parents, or otherwise, in the pandemic has really put that front and center.

Although the EEOC did put out guidance on this back in 2007 I believe.  We talked earlier this year about how it relates to COVID.

But from your perspective in dealing with working parents and the effect that the caregiver responsibilities have disproportionately on women or people of certain minority backgrounds, from your perspective, what can we do to continue to raise awareness of and what have you seen personally what the impacts of that have been on the people who are involved with your organization?

MS. BURRUSS:  Sure.  Thank you so much for the question.  I think we are seeing a lot with regard to this issue of child-care.  Employers who have yet to embrace the potential flexibility that we learn through COVID that we can still function.  I think that is always going to plague at this point, at least in the short-term.

I think we're also seeing a disproportionate effect on women.  And as we look at that ALICE population, you know, a significant portion of people who find themselves in that category are led by single-parent households.  And so when you layer that with the issue of child care issues, parental responsibilities to aging population, and then the fact that women are more likely to make less money than men for the same work, the issue just becomes more and more complex.

I think that we would find helpful from the EEOC is more guidance around this issue of hybrid work.  What are the possibilities with regard to that, what kind of enforcement or encouragement can the EEOC give to the employers as we struggle frankly with how to balance, balance this issue.

And if employees need to work hybrid because of this issue with childcare or other issues, what can we do to encourage employers to do the right thing and leave, leave that door open for their employees to be able to do that.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Thank you.  Ms. Hernandez, I want to come to you.  And thank you all for your being here and your opening statements.  I found yours particularly touching with your own personal story of coming here and not knowing English.

I know at the Commission, you know, America is very diverse and a lot of people speak a lot of different languages.  We put out guidance in Spanish.  And recently we put out guidance in many other languages.  Not just for employees, but for HR professionals who also English might be their second language as well.

But on the topic of national original discrimination, I'd like to know what your experiences are here locally and if that's something that you're seeing as well.

As we heard in the first panel, there is a lot of race discrimination.  Historically here in Buffalo that has been really worked hard to eliminate.  Just curious of your perspective on discrimination related to national origin and what we can do to further raise awareness of that?

MS. HERNANDEZ:  Thank you so much for that question.  I would like to say the City of Buffalo, the City of Good Neighbors.

We are very proudly a city that welcomes people from all over, all over the world.  And you can feel the diversity in our communities.

We just celebrated the Hispanic, Puerto Rican Hispanic Day Parade this past Saturday.  And at the same time the Taste of Diversity Festival was happening on the upper west side.  Which was, for some of us it was, okay, I'm going to be here for ten minutes and then I got to run over there.  And we also had the Asian Festival in our waterfront.

So as a City I believe we welcome and we have opened our doors to people from all communities.

But the matter of discrimination, I think it's not, I think it's felt when opportunities are not being created for our new community members, or immigrant community members that are arriving to Buffalo, if the opportunities are not there for self-improvement, for job opportunities, how can they thrive.

So I think that's where we've opened the doors, we've done a great job with that, now we need to create the opportunities for people to come self-sufficient.

I think, again, providing education is key.  We have, we are blessed with so many colleges in our area.  We want to see those colleges come to the communities where our immigrant population is living and say, here, we have opportunities for education, this is what we have, so that people can be self-sufficient.

Connecting to the employers, making sure that that come to the neighborhoods and have their job fairs.  I'll give you a quick example.

A number of years ago I worked with an organization called Hispanic's United of Buffalo.  Hispanic's United of Buffalo I believe had a position for an employment specialist that was funded by the state.

This person, their job was simply keeping in touch with all the companies in the area.  When those companies needed employees, they would call us.  They could call the Hispanic's United of Buffalo and say, can you fulfill these.  Can you help us fulfill these positions.

There was even training for the trades.  Where they would come and do the training and these individuals could be paid for training time.  And almost guaranteed a job.

Those positions are no longer in existence.  I called them, specifically because I was getting ready for this panel and I said, hey, do you still have that position where someone can call and ask for a job, well, no.  They couldn't afford it so they don't have that position available anymore.

I'm not sure if that's available in other agencies, but I'll go back to the same thing I said in my beginning statement.  We need to create the relationship between the private sector, the community, so that our people that are a native, these are able bodies that are ready to work, but we need to provide the translation, the language barriers, some of those issues, and then bring the employers into the community to create those opportunities.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Thank you.  In my remaining one minute, a quick power round for the three of you.  You know, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Some call it theft.

All three of you have done unbelievable work, but you've all admittedly said that you are limited to your company, you're limited to the City of Buffalo and to you, to your foundation here.  What could we steal, if there is one thing we could take away, I won't use the word steal, but I did, what can we take away and then try to implement it nationwide where we have the jurisdiction to be able to do so?

Yes, what would be the one thing, from all this hard work, from the benefits and the potential pitfalls that you face, implementing these wonderful programs that we can take away nationally?

MR. MEHAFFY:  I think locally, I'll just say quickly, and Clotilde touched upon this, is collaboration and the ability to foster collaboration.  Because government can't do it by itself, the community groups can't do it by themselves, business can't do it by themselves.  It really is somehow collaboration.

MR. SOMERS:  I think also identify the challenging communities and identify and anchor tenant in those areas.  And how does that person or company or organization that's already living in that, they're experiencing this, how can you help unlock their challenges, provide additional resources so on a day-to-day basis they can positively impact the neighborhood in which they're located.

MS. PEREZ‑BODE DEDECKER:  Cross-sector partnerships and investing in building the capacity of employers.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Thank you.  We did the power round, great job.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Excellent.  Well now I'll go to Commissioner Lucas.  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Thank you.  And thank you all to the panel.  It's hard to prioritize who to talk to first because it was a really interesting discussion.  As the former panelist as well.  And we just really appreciate you all being here.

I was wondering if any of you could speak to the race or national original challenges faced by Buffalo's Asian community in light of I know that there is one.  That there was recently an Asian festival.

And we've heard from a few other racial groups today, so I wonder if there were any particular things we should be focusing on in terms of Buffalo's Asian community?

MR. SOMERS:  You know, we don't have local direct experience, but our company has had a relationship with a Japanese company for over 40 years.

My father ran an international medical device firm and I was introduced to this gentleman at 11 years old.  And when I moved to Buffalo 30 years ago we started building product for them.  And so, you know, I think I've had the chance to go to Japan multiple times.

And speaking of Japanese, Asians, they're wonderful people.  They're super caring.  And you're right, how do we expose to their type of culture, which is really heartfelt?

Before we started working on a project, we went over there multiple times.  And once I got to know them I said, what is this about.  They said, well you will fail in this project sometime and we want to get to know you as a person because that's when the challenges will occur.

And we have.  And we're still working together after 25 years.  So, that's just kind of anecdotal, but, I mean, I have found that the Asians are huge heartfelt, lifelong people.  And when I read about these issues I just cannot even fathom why people do that.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Maybe Ms. Dedecker, do you do any work around the Asian Immigrant population in Buffalo?

MS. PEREZ‑BODE DEDECKER:  We do a lot of work around racial equity.  Racial ethnic equity is how we determine it.

And again, as like Kelly, I came when I was 9 years old without speaking English and felt a tremendous warmth and welcome.  And public sector safety net, right on through our current experience as a family.

And it is a city that welcomes immigrants and refugees.  And celebrates the growth.  Brendan spoke to the growth that Buffalo has experienced.  That has, in large part, been driven by us being a federal resettlement community with resettlement agencies.

So it is, proportionately speaking, it's a very small portion of our population.  Our racial ethnic diversity is first and foremost African-American and then Latin X, in terms proportion for the region.

And the intent here is opportunity for all in celebrating our human capital.  Which is really central to our future.


MS. HERNANDEZ:  Yes.  I wanted to add, as a member of Hispanic Heritage Counsel, I've had the opportunity, we've had the opportunity, we've been invited to some of the events with the Chinese American Chamber of Commerce.

I have to say one word that was expressed earlier, and the word is collaboration.  The more our community agencies stop thinking about what can I do just right here but expand and broaden the horizon to bring everyone together to the table to see what we can do as agencies and what we can do for the people that we serve.

And on Buffalo's west side, and I'll use it as the prime example, in the future we're looking to build our Hispanic Cultural Center.  That's just not going to be for Hispanic heritage, it is now taken into consideration that we have Somali, we have Bengali.  We have different immigrant populations that have come from like Africa on the upper west side.

So an example was the parade this weekend.  There were people from different nationalities.  And we invite them to bring the flag and cheer on.

But in terms of sitting down and trying to fill the gaps that currently exist, I think agencies need to come together.  So if we can bring the Asian, I'm sorry, the Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Heritage Council.  I also know there is an Indian Association.

I have been working very closely, we've seen the growth of the Bengali population in Buffalo to the effect where now Buffalo Employment Training Center is doing Bengali oriented job fairs.

So I think there is so much room for growth here.  I think this is the time and Buffalo is the right place for it.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Thank you.  I appreciate you talking about collaboration.  I think it's important to see the shared lines that can be across different groups.  Language access certainly, transportation probably all immigrant populations.  There is a lot that's similar as much as there is different.

I wanted to ask you, Ms. Hernandez, just following up on that, some of the, in terms of language access as well as immigrant communities, how has, how can we do better in terms of reaching out in terms of our outreach?

That outreach also will lead to what we can enforce, we know about that.  The agency has been closed during much of the pandemic to the public.  And much of our outreach events have been virtual.

But I know that many immigrants face access to technology.  The fact that you can use a smartphone might not be the same as having a desktop computer.  So I wanted to hear how that might have affected our outreach, and likewise, our enforcement.

MS. HERNANDEZ:  Thank you for the question.  I've had an opportunity to work with the Buffalo Board of Education, Adult Education Department, where they have several locations where new arrivals, new immigrants and others can also come and learn English.

We've seen that there is a lot of ESL education going on.  I think that's the perfect place where maybe we can make, not just that English is a second language education available, but also education on, like I said, job information.  Employers can come and talk to that population.

I myself, through Fidelis, have come out to do information on health.  We do something called healthy reminders.  You must have a physical.  Please get a physical if you're looking for a job.  Make sure you have a primary care doctor.  Don't just use the emergency room as your resource, you need a primary care doctor.

So if we're out here teaching and educating, I believe your agency can do the same.  And come out and educate our folks into what their rights are as employees and what things they can learn to recognize could be a violation of their rights and things of that nature.

But outreach can definitely happen.  I would start there because that's where people are.  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Thank you.  With my remaining time left, Ms. Somers, I wanted to just commend you for staying in Buffalo and for the efforts that you've done there.  Because I know manufacturing leaving this region has often contributed to significant barriers to access to good employment.

I did want to ask though, to the extent that you had been thinking about leaving or to the extent that you choose to expand to Ireland or Mexico, as opposed to further investment in Buffalo, what are the barriers that you are facing in terms of staying here and how could other manufacturers, or your company in particular, further create good jobs in this region?

MR. SOMERS:  Yes, that's a great question.  I mean, we expanded internationally because we serve a global market and our customers sell around the world, so we need to manufacture in multiple locations.

And for example now, we make a very sophisticated product in our company in Ireland, and also here.  The customers basically say we appreciate your efforts and if there is a disaster in one facility, we assume we're still going to get the product the next day.  And so we need to structure our company in such way to do that.

As we grow in a competitive market, we also are adding high levels of automation sophistication.  Our competitors are in China, they're in Europe, they're in South America.  So it's a challenging space.  We drive a lot of innovation.

So I think as we grow, and how we continue to grow, is to provide internal education and training to continue to grow those positions.  But it's definitely a challenge.

And when we were looking at a second site back 25 years ago, we were looking down the street.  But for our space serving the global market, having another building down the street would not meet our customer needs.  And so there is always a balance between your customer needs and growing the employment.

And that's one of the things that we're always faced with.  And I think our footprint works very well now.  And I think we're committed to Buffalo and all our locations.


CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  Well, I so am grateful to all of you for your work today and for you're being here to help educate us.  I too have a few questions and I fear my time will be too short, but let's begin.

I wanted to start with Ms. Dedecker.  And my understanding is that as part of the racial equity roundtable you've been looking at this idea of, I supposed a racial equity impact analysis training.  And I'd love to hear a bit more about that.

And in particular, what has been the response from employers that have taken part in these training and what you might say to those employers that are thinking about voluntarily performing these kinds of analyses in the future.

MS. PEREZ‑BODE DEDECKER:  Absolutely.  I would say it's been a very solid response from the community.  We launched, the community foundation administers this training, so we organize it.  We connect the outwork places with the trainers.  It's the Race Matters Institute that actually provides the training.

We're a unique community in that we've done this at scale across the sectors.  So what does that mean?  We pre-book x numbers of training, six to eight trainings, up to ten a year.  And they sellout pretty quickly in the beginning of the year.

We have 3,822 leaders that have gone through this training.  In order for a workplace to go through this training they need the CEO in the room.  And then the other 29 C-Suite leaders.  Because it's very important that leadership be aligned in leading this particular culture shift in an organization.

They then appoint two coaches that receive additional training.  And are part then of a peer learning cohort.  A community of practice across the various workplaces.  All of this with the Race Matters Institute offering support and continuing education.

And it has been an incredibly powerful, and I would say transformation impact, in the workplaces that have participated.  We've been very strategic about inviting larger employers first.  Major nonprofits first and government agencies first.  Again, the cross-sector piece here is pivotal.

The training is about our shared history.  Come to find out, not a lot of understanding of how we got to where we are today and what structural racism actually looks like.

Shared language to talk about it.  And a tool that helps you center race equity in decision making throughout the organization.

And then the ask is that the employers will then take this training out throughout the organization.  And we also invest in train-the-trainer within an organization so they don't have to continuously rely on a national vendor who does this training.

But we have the ABFE.  The ABFE is the Association of Black Foundation Executives.  They do this training, as well as the Race Matters Institute.  And they have been our two partners in doing this work.

The focus is on policy and practice change.  So the three A's of capacity building.  Awareness, actionable tools and policies and practices and procedures, and accountability.  So we have an evaluation of these workplaces.  What's changed, what have been the challenges, what are you learning and how can we share this with this community of practice.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I was going to turn next to Mr. Somers.

And one of the things that I hear a lot in speaking to employers, and also can imagine that, you know, that's obviously anecdotal but others have this question too, is that there are a lot of employers that really want to have a more diverse, equitable, accessible, inclusive workplace but they just, it seems like too big of a task to figure out, well, what are we doing and where do we go.

And so, assuming they don't know about the efforts that you've just described, Ms. Dedecker, what would you just say to them if you were speaking to someone who said to you?

MR. SOMERS:  No, it is an interesting question.  But I think fundamentally you have to start with the culture.  And you have to build a culture that cares about others.

They talk about things called the no jerk rule.  There is another phrase for it, which I won't share here.

But I think that has to come from the top down.  And you have to have a welcoming culture that lets people in.  And one that really provides openness for others.

I think the next piece is really about the vision.  We talked about vision.  And you need to engage all your employees at a higher level, not just do this task and here is the training.

I think it's all about that why that I talked about a couple times before.  And I think those are difficult things to understand, but I think if people can build a why for their company, that's important.

And then if you don't have any diversity, hirer people in pairs.  You know, we have a buddy system.  If someone comes in with a different language, we already have that person with the language at Harmac, we buddy them up.

We have a realtime translation service that we use.  So on the manufacturing floor if there is a question from an employee whose language isn't English, we have a phone service and the supervisor calls the service and says, Bengali to English.  And then they hand the phone to the person who speaks Bengali and they have the conversation.

But I think it's about taking small steps.  One of the other things we do is we have lunches with ten people on our leadership team.  And we create a warm environment and we invite a range of employees.  And we ask them, what can we do differently, what can we do better, what steps can we take so that you feel more welcome.

But I think at the start it's about a culture in saying, AHey, we are a company who is open to growth and we're new.  We're new here in this space.  But we welcome people and then take it one step at a time.@

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I would turn to Ms. Burruss.

You know, you were talking earlier about ALICE, the Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed Individuals.  And in this area, are you able to talk a little bit, you spoke some about the impact on caregivers and those single family households.  Can you talk a little bit as well about the racial demographic, other demographic makeup of that population, if you will?

MS. BURRUSS:  Sure.  So what we see with ALICE population, what we wanted knowledge, is that the ALICE population exists not only in the City of Buffalo.

We have statics that I'm happy to share with the Commissioners in some of our printed documentation, we see it across the board.  Across even the affluent suburbs that Brendan talked about a little earlier.

The problem of ALICE is spread across, again, because it's focusing on, and its impacted by the things that everyone needs.  Housing and food and utilities and childcare and those issues.

So it is, while it is higher in the Black and Hispanic population, there was a question earlier about the Asian population, that's somewhere around 30 percent.  Still, the Asian population is higher than the White population itself.

We see that children are significant impacted when they are part of either the poverty level, at the lower poverty level or at the ALICE population, as well as seniors.  So you can see it's all throughout.  It's all throughout.

And then those issues are affecting how employees are able to be productive at work, as well as the stigmas that people, that the employer places on those individuals based on their membership in those populations.

And the last thing I'll say is that very often the ALICE population finds themselves in sort of this catch-22.  You know, they need to be able to make more money.  They're doing all the right things to become promoted, to make themselves marketable.

And then because they are not able, because when they are able to be promoted and they're going to make more money, they're going to find that they're losing access to benefits that they still very much need in order to meet some of those necessities that I spoke about earlier.

So the work of the ALICE population and those living below that, really, and it keeps being said over and over and over again, it's going to take collaboration and intentionality from all the partners across the community in order to get after some of this work.  And this is just one small step in terms of the conversation and collaboration that that's going to take.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Okay, thank you very much.  There is so much more to say but we have limited time.  And I am just so grateful to each one of you.  And thank you very much.

With that, I will say we were going to break for lunch.  We are running just a little bit behind time.  It is now 1:07.  I think that if we go until, just give yourselves an hour, come back at 2:07.  And thank you very much.

And we intend to follow-up, so this is not the last time any of you will be hearing from us.  Thank you.

(Whereupon, the above-entitled matter went off the record at 1:07 p.m. and resumed at 2:07 p.m.)

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you for joining us today.  We are so pleased to be able to continue our listening session on racial and economic justice here in the City of Buffalo.

I will now introduce our third panel.  I will start with Dr. Rolanda Ward.  An associate professor of social work and the endowed faculty director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity, excuse me, Race, Equality and Mission at Niagara University of Niagara Falls, New York.

As a macro-trained practitioner and a scholar she has focused on societies most vulnerable, the underserved and proven risk populations.  Including recent paroles.

Dr. Ward also coordinates Niagara University's efforts to serve as a resource and leverage change on issues related to diversity, equality and social justice.  Both on campus and in the broader community.  Thank you for being with us.

Next we have in the center Reverend Mark Blue, president of the Buffalo Branch of the NAACP.  Reverend Blue was born in Buffalo and dedicated his life to public service.

In 1993 he joined the Air Force Reserve where he served as base equal employment opportunity counselor.  And on the Human Resources Development Council at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

He retired in 2003 with a rank of Master Sergeant.  In 2012 Pastor Blue was appointed president of the board of directors of the Lackawanna Chambers of Congress.  The first African-American to hold that position.

He serves as Pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Lackawanna.  Welcome to you, sir.

Next, Thomas Beauford is president and CEO of Buffalo Urban League.  A position he has held since 2020.  He has over 20 years of leadership experience in private industry and community board service.

Prior to leading Buffalo Urban League, Mr. Beauford served as vice president at M&T Bank.  And was a member of HSBC's Banks Diversity Council.  And chaired the African Heritage Diversity Committee.  Welcome to you, sir.

We also have Cindi McEachon.  Welcome.  She is the CEO of Peaceprints of Western New York.  Which provides comprehensive reentry services to individuals involved in the criminal justice system in Erie and Monroe Counties and works to overcome barriers to employment, housing and education.

Peaceprints provides resources and services to individuals at every stage in the justice system.  Including pre-release, employment workshops and assisting individuals with obtaining and keeping employment.

Ms. McEachon previously served as the Erie County reentry taskforce coordinator and senior job developer at the Center for Employment Opportunities.

Thank you all for being here today.  As a reminder you have five minutes each for your opening remarks.  And we'll being with Dr. Ward.

DR. WARD:  Good afternoon.  I want to extend my sincere gratitude for the Commission's commitment to addressing racial discrimination in the workplace.  Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

Today I would like to clarify a few definitions, discuss what constitutes vulnerability for the formally incarcerated and offer solutions to pivot this population from well-established poor outcomes.

As a macro-social worker I am keenly aware that multicausal and structural theories are essential to the analysis of micro and mezzo factors that contribute to the development of social problems.

Recently this country has engaged in racial reckoning, which at times has created a great deal of division.  And at other times provided the momentum for radical changes in how we govern.

Our understanding of racial equity has moved us to upgrade our discourse, to disaggregate data and to consider system and contextual factors.  Those with criminal justice contact have disproportionate and disparate employment and economic outcomes.

And incarceration history places individuals in a unique class.  A class of scarlet outsiders.  They're cases follow them for life, even if they are juvenile defendants.  And their criminal cases keep them on the margins of communities.

Most notably, former incarcerated people face obstacles finding stable employment.  Work opportunities mainly consist of shift work that engages in just in time scheduling practices, low skills, jobs with no benefits and non-union jobs that maintain a cycle or poorly compensated wages.  These types of jobs do not guarantee stability or economic mobility.

Criminal justice and employment reforms must consider the intersectionality of systemic policies that would create moving glaciers for people to traverse.  No longer is it acceptable to relegate the outcomes of the formally incarcerated to subjective assertions of inherent differences and criminal genic risk factors.

We must also address systemic and institutional disparities that are distinguished by the existence of laws, policies, practices, as well we economic and political structures that place certain groups at a disadvantage.

Our focus here today asks us to identify racial barriers that impeded gainful employment.  I would like to ask you to consider the question, Aare criminal background checks accurate of a person's offense or do they perpetuate additional discrimination practices in the workplace?@

I am here to assert that plea bargains are an underlying criminal justice practice that impacts the person's future employability.  For example, one study found that pretrial detention increases a person's likelihood of pleading guilty by 46 percent.

While New York has passed bail reform legislation, our original attempt to equalize pre-trial outcomes has come under political fire resulting in increased judicial discretionary powers.  In addition, we now know that there are significant racial disparities in the plea deals, especially for misdemeanor charges with Black people facing more severe punishment.

Research has shown that plea deals send more Black people to prison, or jail, versus Whites.  Plea deals do not actually reflect a person's criminal history.

As such, employer based criminal background checks are flawed screening tools and are essentially additional barriers for this population.  They create undue risk for this population.

As a social scientist I know the code of federal regulations for human subjects research outlines specific requirements to enhance protection for three groups:  Pregnant women, children and prisoners.

This designation is used to ensure that no human will default individuals who are vulnerable because of a condition or status.  And that researchers consider what protections or additional steps may be needed to minimize risk for these special populations.

Today I would like to argue that those under community supervision are a protected class because of their parole or probation status.  For example, those on community supervision must agree in their conditions of release to community supervision meetings, onsite workplace observations, searches of person and property, alternatives to incarceration programming and employment verification, including hours worked and pay.  These are stigmatizing practices.

I'm asking you to consider these stigmatizing practices as employment risks.  Individuals under community supervisor risk employability when they apply and when they secure employment.

The identification of the formally incarcerated, or persons on parole or probation as having characteristics, which may require employers to grant reasonable accommodations, is an action that forges racial equity.  I urge you to add this population to your vulnerable populations's taskforce.

Equal employment opportunities for those who have criminal justice contacts requires a multicausal structural and social justice analysis.  By doing so we rely less on individual explanations for poor outcomes and address systemic barriers that will lead to the restoration of human dignity and respect.  Thank you very much.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  We will now go to Reverend Blue.

REV. BLUE:  Thank you.  Thank you for this opportunity.  And I want to thank the Commission for having this speaking tour.  This is the first I've ever heard of and I want to just commend you on that.

First I'd like to start off with the vision statement of the NAACP.  It is to ensure the society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination.

Our mission statement for the NAACP is to ensure the political, education, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.  That's a mouthful.

But one of the things that we want to ensure is that not only are minorities and our African-American people have those rights, but if you give them to the African-American people you give them to everyone.  One of the things that I found is that because of the disparities that we have in society, we need to make sure that there is equitable distribution.

We have individuals who have jobs, our employers who have jobs, but a lot of nepotism comes into play.  And their children feel that they that have privilege of being the next CEO of that company.

First it's giving the individual who was best qualified to be that applicant.  It's possible that in what we're doing right now, hopefully some changes can be made.

In this Commission we want to make sure that there is equality across the board.  Because one of the things about a panel, once you have the discussion it takes some time to gather the data.  And once you gather the data, you're still back to square one.  Now you have other systemic things that are happening that will negate some of the progress that we're making.

As we go forward, I want to touch on education.  Our education system is flawed.  Our education system isn't teaching real American history.

African-American history is American history.  And when children do not have that, they are behind the eightball, they're behind the curve.

One of the things that happened to me in the Military, I went to basic training with people who knew I was African-American but never seen one before.  We still have those disparities.  We still have that type of division that's in our country.

One of the things that we are doing here in Buffalo, that we're doing here in Buffalo for the NAACP, we are pushing for the Amistad Bill.  The Amistad Bill teaches African-American history from Kindergarten all the way to 12th grade.  And that way, not only do the City of Buffalo students get educated in African-American history but our suburban students get educated in African-American history.

We're lobbying with the state to pass this to make sure our education department takes this on full board.  Because what's happening is, our children are not getting the actual facts.  That's why you have the critical race theory that's coming into play.

We need to make sure that we educate our children fully on the contributions that African-American's make.  And it's not just in February.  Martin Luther King is not the only one who contributed to the history of African-Americans.

Our workforce.  We need to make sure that there is equality in our workforce.

We're also dealing with systemic housing issues that are plaguing our society.  Where now we don't have equal housing.  We're still having redlining in our communities.

And that's something that we have to deal with the banks on.  And also deal with the out of state landlords.  They are slum lords actually.  They're renting properties, not maintaining properties.

And our people, our children, are getting lead poisoning.  Their houses are not up to par and we are suffering in that.

And I know I'm going fast, but law enforcement, the criminal justice system is not fair for African-Americans and minorities.  As the previous speaker mentioned, Dr. Ward, it's disproportionately given.

If I don't have enough money for a proper defense, then my option is a plea deal.  To bargain out to where I go to jail, although I'm innocent.

But because I don't have the means to defend myself, it seems like now I have to plea bargain in order to go for a lesser charge.  But again, that lesser charge is on my record.  And if it's on my record, and if it's a felony, I can no longer vote, I can no longer apply for student loans in order to get a higher education.  The system is unfair.

And we also have to look at how it's being dispensed in our society.  I see that my time is up.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you very much.  And I would go now to Mr. Beauford.  Welcome.

MR. BEAUFORD:  Thank you, Commissioner.  Thank you all assembled.

I'd like to start also like Reverend Blue, just by talking about the mission of the Buffalo Urban League.  And that is to empower African-Americans and other minorities in disadvantaged individuals to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil right.

I know we are here today to speak about equality, equity and also look at any types of discrimination in employment practices.

And I know that this particular organization was set apart to really deal with these issues of equality, which is in the titling, Aequal.@  And I'm hoping that through this discussion today, and what I'd like to set a part, is that we move from an equality construct to an equity construct.

Much of the advancement that has been made has given Blacks and other individuals the opportunity to walk into the door for something, but it doesn't mean that that opportunity will be sustainable for them, that they will be welcomed or nurtured in an environment.  So we're hoping that this discussion today is going to lead us to more discussion around equity.

We look at, at the Buffalo Urban League and at the Urban League affiliates across the country, we look at empowerment strategies through many of the social determinates. Education, which we've heard about already.

We also look at criminal social justice and civil rights, youth development and empowerment, housing.  And those things we know are factors that impact our community at a disparate rate compared to other demographics.

So that said, we are looking at all of the pre-existing conditions which don't allow for this particular community to flourish and to reach its -- allow this community to flourish and to have its greatest impact and become its best self.

And today, you know, I understand that we're going to be focusing.  I'd like to bring my focus really around the construction industry as it impacts Buffalo and as it impacts other communities of color, specifically because there's a sense of urgency around some really large opportunities that might be in front of the Buffalo community.

And we want to make sure that this community, Black and Brown members of the society, are able to participate in the kind of once in a lifetime, very immediate opportunities that are being made, along with all of the funding that's here to support infrastructure that's coming from the federal government.  We want to make sure that this community can avail all of those resources.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And now we'll go to Ms. McEachon.

MS. McEACHON:  Good afternoon.  And thank you for having me here today.

For the past 22 years, I have had the privilege of working within the non-profit realm.  I have seen movements occur in base industries, movements that increase equity, access to opportunity, and improved overall health and well being of both clients and employees alike.

For the last 13 years of my career, I have worked within the justice industry, an industry different from all of the others, an industry devoid of accountability and best practices, plagued by politics, and fueled by systemic racism.

This industry cripples communities, from government to community-based organizations, jails to prisons, attorneys to judges, probation to parole, and across all jurisdiction levels, exploitation of people occurs.

If we truly want to improve our justice system and create a space for all human beings to flourish and be contributing members of our society, then we need to rethink our approach on all levels.  Difficult conversations must be had.  And more importantly, true action and accountability must occur.

We can no longer operate in this controlled manner, a manner that offers an illusion of change yet protects the status quo.  Punitive approaches to our nation's inequities are the favored method of operation.

While overall prison numbers in New York State seem to be going down, there are still currently 54,500 individuals detained in 48 correctional facilities across the state, and a 95 percent rate of people will return under state supervision.

In my experience, state parole is simply a paramilitary, power-driven system that thrives on its high discretionary authority, both internally and externally.  They alone hold the decision making power that determines where a person lives and works, whether they must attend  programming, have a curfew, and whether they can drive, even if their conviction has absolutely nothing to do with driving.

These represent just a few of a justice-involved person's mandates, mandates that often serve as a true barrier to entry.  One of these mandates is the expectation that an individual will find a job while under parole supervision.

Ironically, when surveying persons with justice involvement, housing and employment are always the top two identified barriers to success.  Historically it has been difficult for those with convictions to obtain employment.

However, one of the unexpected impacts if the COVID pandemic is the willingness of employers to overlook prior convictions and hire those with justice involvement.  It has now become less difficult to obtain employment and more difficult to maintain employment.

Since our criminal justice system lacks transparency and still operates as taboo, most employers do not understand the mandates those bound to parole face. Mandates that, at a moment's notice, may require a person to report to the parole office rather than show up at work.  Mandates that allow a parole officer to show up for an announced visit at a job site, likely requiring the employee to stop what they're doing and speak to their parole officer.

Individuals may be mandated to programs after they've obtained employment, resulting in changed availability.  It is important to note that often an individual on parole does not get to choose their program provider, location or times of programming, and are often forced to decide between keeping their job or attending the mandatory program.  The weight of this choice is freedom.

Over the years, I've personally witnessed individuals violate their parole because they chose to keep their job to support themselves and their families.  And despite their best efforts, their mandatory program providers refused to modify their group schedules of comply with work.

I have seen individuals attempt to comply with both, meeting with their employer, requesting leniency in their schedule only to lose their job because they couldn't fulfill the  availability originally agreed upon.

While I believe parole mandates serve as the number one barrier to one's success, I must also highlight the overall barrier the general court system presents.  The courts have the power and authority to set court dates at times that are most convenient for the courts, not the individuals bound to the court itself.

Recently I attended family court in support of a free, formerly incarcerated woman hoping to obtain custody of her three-year-old son.  This custody was lost because of her prior convictions.  She had already attended numerous required court appearances, all of which were in the middle of her work day.  Each time she was forced to request an extended break or the day off completely.

Since I started attending never once was she asked if the date or time worked for her and at the very last virtual appearance we both sat in the waiting room for 35 minutes, only to be informed that our presence was not needed and that they met attorney's only.

The irony in all of this is if she gets fired, the courts will use her termination as rationale to prove she is not responsible enough to have her son.

Given our nation's approach to incarceration and community supervision, I think it is time we explore opportunities for supporting our friends with justice involvement.  We need a community that supports their transformation, protecting them from losing their employment as they navigate their parole mandate.

I believe we should consider strategies to educate our employers on the needs and constraints of those with justice involvement and increase awareness and understanding, ultimately and hopefully, employment longevity.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And to all of our witnesses, my thanks.  Each Commissioner will now have eight minutes beginning with the Vice Chair.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Well, thank you, Chair Burrows, and thank you so much to all of our witnesses, both for making the time to talk to us today and for all that you do on behalf of the Buffalo community.

The work that you are doing to provide opportunity and justice for some of the most vulnerable communities is inspirational and very helpful to us as we think about our strategic enforcement priorities for the next five years.

And that is in essence why we're here today, to hear from those of you on the ground with expertise on the challenges that your communities are facing about how the EEOC can best use its resources to add value to the struggle to ensure non-discriminatory, safe, inclusive, and diverse work forces.

So I have loads of questions, but let me start with Dr. Ward and Ms. McEachon.  I think, Dr. Ward, you mentioned the fact that you think that we should prioritize formerly incarcerated individuals as part of our strategic enforcement plan.

And you all may be aware that our current strategic enforcement plan, the one that we are looking to update, treats vulnerable communities, including specifically immigrants, migrant workers, and others, as an area of priority for us.

So I guess a question for Ms. McEachon, do you agree with Dr. Ward that it would be useful for the EEOC to specifically name justice involved individuals as a vulnerable population?

MS. McEACHON:  One hundred percent, if I could have high-fived her when she was speaking, I would have, so yes.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Dr. Ward, anything you'd like to add on that?

DR. WARD:  No, I think Ms. McEachon's analysis of the challenges that folks fact to keep work is the basis for identifying a protective class.  If they don't keep work, then there are implications to their life.

But if they can't find work, there are also additional implications.  And all of this is mandated by the corrections system.  So I think that we have to think about them differently, because they're bound to a system that's dictating the choices that they can make.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  So let me follow this up then by asking you more about how EEOC can most add value in this arena.  And there is work to be done, I suspect, with justice involved individuals and with employers.

And I wonder, first of all, whether you think that currently or formerly incarcerated people, people on parole, people under supervision, know that they have rights in this area?  And even if so, but particularly if not, what can we do to educate that community about the fact that they have the right to be free of discrimination in the workplace?

DR. WARD:  So I think one of the biggest concerns that people who exit incarceration have is retaliation.  And you may know you have a right, but will you actually ask for that right to be respected is a very different scenario.

And corrections is not completely subjective, objective, sorry.  It is a subjective process.  And so I think people are trying to protect themselves.  They often feel like they're being -- they look over their shoulders, right.  They're constantly feeling like they're watched.  And so even if you understand your rights, will you execute that right?  I'm not sure they will.

MS. McEACHON:  And to continue with that, I mean, I'm not going to give you a direct answer, but I'm going to speak specifically about myself.  I have been terrified to sit in front of you, because I knew I was calling out a particular industry.  And I know that there are ramifications of that for me, even, right.

And I'm not under supervision.  I'm the CEO, but I'm aware put a target on myself by doing so.  And it was a risk that I opted to take.  And so I want to share that with you and state this publicly, because it's real.  And it is real for every single one of us.  And we tiptoe around it.

And so, I mean, yes, I think there are ways, there are strategies we can come up with to engage individuals, whether they are the employers or they're the justice impacted.  But there is an elephant in the center of the room that we also have to look at and have some, I guess, difficult conversation.  Because it is very real, and it's going to prohibit actual change or transformation from occurring.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  That's sobering and distressing to hear.  I am confident that all of you are aware that retaliation against people for asserting their rights in the workplace, even if in fact they have not been subject to discrimination, is nonetheless barred by our laws.

So how can we work with the employer community to ensure that they understand that those kinds of retaliatory practices are prohibited and also to educate them about some of the barriers that people on parole or under community supervision will face so that they can be more supportive of people meeting the condition of their parole rather than just losing their jobs?

MS. McEACHON:  I think I learned through the COVID pandemic, right, that we can pivot as a people, as a community, right, and that we learned how to go virtual, we learned how to go hybrid.  I sat on virtual panels with other agencies and other stakeholders across the nation at various points.  There is certainly a way to distribute information.  But it requires out of the box thinking, and creativity, and a willingness to do something different.

Print material's great, right, even a landing page, you know, you guys have one.  I saw it for the first time.  Again, I'm a CEO, I should know that it exists in that way and that it's there, but I did not know until now, right.

And so what can we do differently?  What have we learned as a way to engage people on a much broader scale to raise awareness?  Because I don't know that it's there yet, right.  But the opportunity, the tools, the infrastructure is there.  You guys being here today is already a step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned.  It's exciting.

DR. WARD:  And I'll just add, wouldn't it be a great and bold move for this commission to call other systems into the room, so to call in the Department of Labor, to call in the prison system, to call in the justice system, to call everyone to say this is what we know are some of the barriers that people face.

And in order to solve this as a society, all of us are going to have to think about what transformations are needed collectively.  I don't think this is just the Commission's problem.  I think it crosses systems, because these folks touch multiple systems.

VICE CHAIR SAMUELS:  Thank you.  I am very sadly out of time.  I have many more questions, and I really look forward to continuing this dialog.  Thank you for being here today.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you, Madam Vice Chair.  We now go to Commissioner Dhillon.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Thank you, and thanks to all the witnesses for being here today.  We appreciate it.

Reverend Blue, I believe you mentioned  in your remarks that you weren't sure you had heard about the EEOC before.  And you're not the first person that we've heard that from today.  In fact, on an earlier panel one of the witnesses remarked that if he went out into a street and said what's the EEOC, a lot of people would think it's a rap artist, which might be the best line of the day.

But the mission of the EEOC, our stated mission, is to prevent and remedy employment discrimination in the workplace.  And the first word is prevent. So outreach and raising awareness of what we do and what people's rights are in the workplace is a really important part of what we do.

And I'm taking it, from what I'm hearing today, is that we need to do more. So what would you recommend that we do to reach the people that need to hear about us, and what we do, and how we can help?

REV. BLUE:  Well, first of all, in the military I was an EEO counselor.  So I was trained in EEO through the Air Force.  What we need to do is to do more education on what the EEOC is about.  Because a lot of people will think that those initials are just more of a new song that people have broke down to just use the acronym for.

We need to do more education from the ground level, even in schools, from the very beginning until now.  Employers need to be educated on that, because reprisal is real.

In the criminal justice system, they need to be educated on that, parole officers need to be educated on that.  Because I've heard many of them say, AI don't care what they do, I'm your boss.  So if you don't do what I say, I will violate you and put you back in prison.@

So there's a fear that's out there.  But in order to combat fear, there should be education.  So we need to do more outreach from the office, from the ground level to let people know that these systems are in place to protect us.  They're not in place to hold us hostage as some individuals try to do.

But if we educate ourselves, if you arm us with education, we can make our way.  But if we don't have education, then we'll still be behind the eight ball, have different barriers that are put before us.

Because I can say, if that person says to me something that was incorrect or foul, or something that puts my life in jeopardy, and I know that they know better, then I have an avenue of redress to go to, to ensure that my rights are not being violated.  So education is the key.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Thank you.  Mr.  Beauford, you had talked about some infrastructure projects that are coming, federally funded infrastructure projects are coming.  We've heard something of that in some of that in some of the earlier panels, and you described them as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

A lot of this is federal dollars.  And we're a federal agency, so what is it that we, at the EEOC, can do to ensure that, as these projects are being implemented, that the opportunities that are being offered from an employment perspective are being allocated equally and are being allocated appropriately?

MR. BEAUFORD:  So, one, I'll say that

I have worked for many years for very large multinational organizations that have a full, you know, understanding of the EEOC in the resource departments, large compliance departments.  And they are very well aware of the EEOC's actions and its powers.

But we're talking about construction projects, and construction firms, and all of the stakeholders in that industry which are largely smaller businesses, and they don't have the sophisticated compliance, or some of them don't have the sophisticated compliance or HR infrastructure.  So they're not aware, they're not as aware.  But they have a profound impact on the population that we're talking about that will be able to avail all of these opportunities.

There is a large stadium for the Buffalo Bills that's going to be constructed very soon.  That's more of a state project.  There is a recovering, if you will, of the 33 or the Kensington Parkway that had a devastating impact on the east side of Buffalo or East Buffalo neighborhood.  Those projects are imminent.  That will be more federal dollars going there.  Those projects are imminent.

But what has happened is we don't have a workforce, that is a Black and Brown workforce, that is already skilled or trained to take advantage of this.  And there is a long pipeline, there's a long process to have people available for that.

The reason that that population does not exist is largely due to long standing discriminatory practices, conditions, where individuals were either not allowed to come into this industry, or when Title VII and other, and even establishment of the EEOC came where they were now able to come into these agencies, they were not welcome.  And they could not flourish in those agencies.

And, you know, some of the discrimination may not rise to the level where it seems egregious, but it's the micro-aggression.  It's all of these conditions that exist that will not allow those people to, or this community to take the best advantage.

So I would say that the EEOC should have a focus on small business, should focus on this industry, and should focus on it in all stages of employment: the pre-employment, the pre-apprentice programs, the apprentice programs, the journeymen, and just all of the requirements that are there so that we can evolve to a place where all of those stakeholders understand what their obligations are under the law and can move this whole industry forward and it be more inclusive.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Interesting that you mention apprenticeships, because we've heard that as well this morning so, you know, kind of putting the pieces together, so what specifically -- and we heard that actually at the hearing earlier this year.  So what do you think the EEOC should be doing around apprenticeship programs to make them more inclusive and to make sure that people that people successfully complete them and on to have a successful career?

MR. BEAUFORD:  Right.  So in this construction industry there's a pre-apprentice program which is kind of a survey, just kind of a program that let's you in, teaches you some basic job skills, also gives you an exploratory look at the different fields, construction fields you might be interested in.

Along that time in those programs, it lets you develop work habits, just a lot of soft skills along with exposing you to this.  And then the apprenticeship programs, which when you actually decide that you want to look at a specific discipline or you want that specific skill, in those programs, they have varying terms of how long you need to be in the program.

They have varying requirements on how much education you need to be in the program.  Or they might have different skill sets, different math requirements for each of those programs.  So I think, you know, those are challenging.  But you have -- those things are pretty set in stone.

But there are some subtle things, like where are these programs located, right?  Because there are things in these programs that say you have to be there on time.  You have to, you know, attendance is so important, to show that you're really interested in the job and you're going to show up on the job site.

Because those things have economic impact.  But those programs not being located in areas where this population lives is important.  And then, you know, transportation becomes an issue, all of these other disciplines, all these ways that show up.

And then you don't have the network, because of the long term discrimination, you don't have the network.  Your cousin, your uncle, they're not waking you up and saying, AHey, it's time to go.  You've got to get there on time.@  Because there's just not enough critical mass in that industry.

And, you know, it kind of defaults back to, I know at one point in this industry they refer to that as the FBI which is friends, brothers, and in-laws, right, all the people who form this informal network. So without those things, these individuals still, or this community still is at a disadvantage.

So we're looking, and we should like at just, you know, all the subtle aspects and maybe enforce some of the things that we know.  Although there's an equal opportunity for you to participate in these programs, it's not equitable in terms of the pre-existing conditions that, again, put you at a disadvantage.

COMMISSIONER DHILLON:  Well, thank you very much.  That was very helpful.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you, Commissioner Dhillon.  We turn not to Commissioner Sonderling

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Thank you, and this is for Dr. Ward and Ms. McEachon.

Here you talked about the stigmatic practices and just general issues.  I know a lot of that was related to the criminal justice system.  You talked about gaps in resumes and how detrimental that could be to applying for a job for a whole host of reasons.  So I want to know more about these know about these other areas that you think are becoming stigmatizing.

But as far as resume gaps, which I know you're both familiar with, with the work you're doing, that has long plagued not only people involved in the criminal justices system but mothers who, you know, want to take, or fathers taking a break from their career to raise their kids, or workers over 40 who want to come back in the work force and have these large gaps.

So I would love to just say what is the solution, what is the answer to this?  Because I don't think anyone has figured it out.

I think with the pandemic and people walking away from jobs, whether they physically couldn't go to the workforces, and weren't able to work, or now suddenly had new caregiving responsibility for parents, or children, or whatever the reasons were, we're going to see now the people reentering the workforce having significant resume gaps.

And you see there's a lot of literature in HR about this now, about looking for this.  I think Lincoln even has the ability to put in, you know, hit a button now for a gap in your workforce, and in your resume explain why you do that.  But that's for people who've voluntarily took that gap.

But what you're focusing on, in your testimony you're getting, are people that aren't afforded that luxury, right, that they resume gaps for reasons they cannot be so forthright with, because they won't get the opportunity for saying I was taking care of my elderly parent with COVID, I took six months off.  So how do we address that, what's the answer?  I know it's a tough one.

MS. McEACHON:  It is a tough one, and I would love to say I would love to say I have a solution, but I don't.  What I can tell you is that for many years when I worked for the Center for Employment Opportunities, and I was working with individuals with said gaps, right, we would spend time coaching and talking about how to, we called it answering the conviction question, but kind of what you're doing, right.  When you explain your gap, your gap is due to incarceration.  How do you say that delicately?

There really is no great way, but we use the experience one had and the skills they gained while they were incarcerated, because you do learn things.  You do get certificates.  You complete programs.  And you do have another identity, right.  Whether it is a parent, or a grandparent, or a son, a daughter, whatever that is, right.  In answering that question, you talk about who you are becoming, what you've done and who you're becoming.

And what we found is that employers were pretty willing to go with that.  When you enter the space and you are uncomfortable, and just didn't want to say anything, or maybe stumbled for words, that's when it got a little dicey.  And people became -- because it's about relationships.

And that's the interesting thing.  As we go through in hiring practices, it is very subjective.  Even when we don't want it to be, it is, if we're being completely honest.  And if you can build a relationship in an interview, you may get the job.  And somebody's going to go an extra step for you, right, but it's that ability to create that space.

And so there are ways.  And depending on what it is, what the conviction is, how long the gap is, we were able to coach different strategies and opportunities to talk about it.  Interestingly now, it's not really an issue.  Post COVID, or if you want to call it that, right, we are desperate for employees.

So we are finding that our individuals are not being drilled with that question.  It's almost commonplace, right, once they realize you were incarcerated and it comes out, whether it's in the background check or you disclosed it, right, that is no longer a deal breaker.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  So what are you doing about the narratives about the actual conviction, so, for instance, somebody who had a DUI, somebody who had a drug arrest as opposed to, you know, a felony, are you working and coaching with potential employees or employers to, I don't want to say judge the severity, but how do you, relevant to what they're going to be doing and with -- not only just for the job qualifications, just for the ability to enter the market.

So are you encouraging more of an openness saying, you know, it was this drug offense versus grand theft auto, whatever the case is, how are you dealing with that narrative?  Now there's a spectrum of what is potentially becoming more acceptable as drug laws become more lenient across the country, how are you dealing with that dynamic?

MS. McEACHON:  Very delicately.  Because we also live in an age of technology.  And so I always coach individuals, and I'd coach everybody in this room, right, if you haven't Googled yourself recently, do it.  Because you need to know what comes up.

And the fact of the matter is, as we heard, push pleas.  You may not have been arrested for what you got convicted of, right.  You took a plea, it changed, it altered.  So what your background check pulls, but what I can, when I type your name in Google, hit enter, and for free find out about you, may not be the same.  So we also need to be aware of that.

So I think technology has shifted employer's access to information, social media, all of that stuff, there is no perfect solution.  But what I've found is that most of the employers I dealt with, and I've built relationships cold, that's what I had to do, and bridged the gap to find individuals with felonies jobs, what I found is that when they were alone they had so many questions for me about the system, right, this big system that nobody really understands.

Once I answered questions about how the system worked, nothing else mattered.  And so sometimes it's as simple as that, is we're looking to educate employers.  They have questions, but they don't want to ask specifically for that information.

And then fear, right, because that's a human response, fear keeps us from taking that risk.  And that's what I find most -- you know, so ;it's not a solution, by any means, but in, you know, personal practice this is what I have found to be successful.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  And, Dr. Ward, I'll give the remaining minute on this.

DR. WARD:  I just want to kind of emphasize though that we're talking about different tiers of employment, right?  Like, just remember all of us, when we applied to school, we had our tier one schools, tier two, and tier three schools.

And so the jobs that Ms. McEachon is talking about are those tier three jobs that people can easily access which does not change the trajectory of your life.  So the types of jobs that will change a person's position or condition that might increase recidivism is a tier two, a tier one job, right.

And so those employment gaps are going to matter more the higher the professional scope of the job is, right.  That's going to matter more.  Resume gaps, application apps, whatever, you know, is involved in those professional positions are going to have dire consequences for people who are involved in the criminal justice system.

COMMISSIONER SONDERLING:  Thank you both.  And thank you all.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And we turn now to Commissioner Lucas.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Thank you.  And just thank you again to this whole panel for your  helpful and interesting insights and for coming out here and be willing to speak up.  I hope that it was a valuable experience for you all.  It certainly was for us.

Mr. Beauford, I wanted to follow-up a little bit more to understand about these pre-apprenticeship programs.  What entities are running these pre-apprenticeship programs?  Are they the unions, or something else, the company?

MR. BEAUFORD:  Sure, Unions do run them.  Unions do run them as well as there are other community-based organizations that run them.  So there are various entities that run them.  Some programs are non-union affiliated as well.  So there's various opportunities to participate in these programs.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Okay.  And are they paid, a pre-apprenticeship program?

MR. BEAUFORD:  Most of the programs are paid.  And I would say some of them last somewhere in the neighborhood of about eight weeks.  But then, you know, when you talk about paid programs and the timing, I don't know that they pay a wage that's, you know, that you can sustain a family on.


MR. BEAUFORD:  So based on, you know, if you have programs, you need to look at program design.  Can they be in the evening after you finish your full day's work and where you can to to this and then start to integrate yourself or skill up to get into this new trade.  So you have to look at all of these design elements of these programs, I think, which are the things that are the trickiest piece.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  And apprenticeship programs, are those exclusively through unions or are there is a similar non-union component to --

MR. BEAUFORD:  There are both.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  There are both, okay.

MR. BEAUFORD:  There are both.  But, you know, and the difference between non-union and union, when you start to get into when you're actually working and then the wages that are being paid at different jobs, so there are some disparities there as well.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Sure.  Do you think that there are racial barriers to entry as a bigger problem versus racial harassment or racial barriers to retain, staying for those programs, or is it both?

MR. BEAUFORD:  I think it's all of it.  I think it's the full continuum from, you know, just the initial access to these programs, to the pre-apprentice program, you know, locations, the accessibility to them, and then beyond that the criteria that you have to meet once you're in these apprentice programs.

You're already at a disadvantage if you had an education system where you graduated, but you didn't have the requisite skills, math skills, or you're not at a level that you can meet.  And some of them, you know, some people get through the initial pieces, and they get to this pre-apprentice, I mean to the apprentice program, and their math skills are not at, you know, at grade school levels.  So that takes them out of the competition.

So we know that, you know, all of these things don't make it a level playing field.  It does in terms of you being able to enter, but those other conditions that pre-existed, especially for certain demographics, can come back to haunt you.

And if you can get past that, and you do get into this work site and you're such a minority there that, you know, there is discrimination there, it's not a very welcoming environment and can be a very hostile environment so that, you know, that continues to perpetuate.

And so in many cases we get back to this place where these, like I said, these projects are coming up, you don't have the workforce.  But you don't have the workforce because you didn't get people in the pipeline.  You don't have the pipeline, I mean, you don't -- and, you know, some of that lack of access is based on conditions, that pre-existing condition.

So you have this cycle where, you know, even people who say they have the best intent, they say, well, you know, we would love to hire this group or this demographic, but they don't have the skill sets or just not enough of them.

And so I know we need to, you know, try to get to break that cycle as well, not only for workforce for entry, but this construction industry is one of the places where you can create generational wealth.

Because you can move from learning an individual skill to moving into being a small business or an entrepreneur yourself.  So, you know, there are so many knock-on implications from not getting this right.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  You know, when Title VII was drafted, I think most of it focused on the employer aspect of our enforcement efforts.  But Title VII has provisions that cover unions, it covers training programs, it covers apprenticeships, it covers employment placement agencies.  Because it recognized that those kinds of feeder entities also pose serious barriers to entry in the workplace.

So I think what I'm hearing from you is that, would you agree that having a focus on those kinds of placement or feeding into entities  be an equal, important part of our strategic enforcement plan?

MR. BEAUFORD:  I think they are equal or maybe greater.  Because there is a process, there is a long-standing process.  It's worked.  You know, this is how those skills are developed.

And I'll just say one more thing.  Once you do get on a job, you also have to have the opportunity to work, to actually get hands-on experience in order to advance within those programs.  So I think it has to go along the whole continuum.  This has to work.

And it's not just on the unions or the construction trade, but all of the stakeholders here.  You know, we're talking about the educational system, the government that's supporting programs, the private industries, the builders, all of these.  And even the community-based organizations have to be there.

And we're looking, you know, there are collaborative opportunities.  We have enough history.  We have enough data.  I don't know how public that data is, but we have enough data about the outcomes, we have enough data about the challenges that we should be able to use to find solutions for some of these problems.

And then certainly we wish that there could be some collaboration where all of these entities can come together and, you know, they can make change through the power of their example.  And if not, then we need the EEOC to come in with some teeth and lead by the example of their power.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Reverend Blue, I  wanted to hear, you know, as a pastor, what role has intersection of faith and race played in helping people be aware of job opportunities, staying, you know, retained in a job, having resiliency in the wake of race discrimination.  I wondered if you had a perspective on that?

REV. BLUE:  Well, one of the things is that, as a pastor, we see everything.  And we also face some of the woes of governmental decisions when individuals have been reprimanded or facing a job loss.  We see that.  And the problem of counseling those individuals, and to giving them an opportunity to have some more hope, and to go forward is great.  So we do a lot of counseling in that area.

Because a lot of things happen that sometimes employers just don't understand.  As it was mentioned by my guest panelists here, the workplace is one of the most craziest places in the world.  Because sometimes employers don't understand, and we find that there's a cultural divide in that place as well.

And it's very important that we have that talk with employers on culture, have that talk with teachers on culture.  Because if I say bad, they may think, okay, that's something he doesn't like.  But that can mean good depending on where you're from and how you address that particular question.

But as far as the faith community, we do a lot of counseling to help individuals and their families cope with a lot of the woes that are being faced and thrown at them in society.  So it's very important that the spiritual connection with our community is there as well.

Because we have a pantry at our church, and we not only feed those in our community, but those outside of our community.  And at any point in time, someone can come seeking some help that they can't get from their medical doctor, they can't get even from their relatives.  But they can call on clergy, and we can be able to help them go through their issues.

COMMISSIONER LUCAS:  Thank you so much.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  I appreciate the focus this morning, or this afternoon at this point, we've been here for a while now, really on construction.  And it's something that the Commission has also been focusing on as well, and the unprecedented public investments, not just here in Buffalo but across the country.

And that is one of the areas where we have found both, you know, obviously really good employers but some of, and I have to say this, some of the most extreme instances of harassment that come across our desk.  And we see, unfortunately, a lot.

And so as I listened to today, one of the things, you know, I would agree, Mr. Beauford, that this is an unprecedented opportunity, not just for Buffalo.  We see really huge investments, public money, taxpayer dollars in building infrastructure which is so important.

How do we make sure that on the front end, so we prevent end remedy discrimination, that is our mission in employment, how can we help make sure that people understand their rights on the front end?  We're happy to be helpful on the back end if we need to, to help get a settlement, to investigate if we have to, or litigate.

But it is much better for everybody, right, if it doesn't happen in the first place.  And so we've heard a lot about outreach.  I would love to ask each of you, I'll start with Mr. Beauford in his construction contacts, but each of you, what's the creative outreach suggestion that you would give to us.  What does it look like for us to carry this message in a way that will be heard?  Because I agree that it needs to be retailed, right, with the populations that you serve.

So I will start with Mr. Beauford, and we'll just go across if you will.

MR. BEAUFORD:  All right.  And I had mentioned before that when we're talking about this industry specifically, we're talking about smaller companies who don't have as large compliance or human resource arms to them.

So, you know, in many other industries if an employee felt like that they faced this type of discrimination, they would know who to go to.  They might feel that there is some level of protection when they go there.

But in these small companies, you know, when you have to go and bring this up to someone within the organization, there is not a lot of, separate from the owners, and someone who you might bring that claim against or have that discussion with.

So I think it's very important to have organizations who are interested in this type of work, community-based organizations, to get the word out.  I mean, again, there's enough history here.  There's enough data here that's showing what the outcomes are, even since the implementation of, you know, this agency, even since the implementation of Title VII and other things that were to advance all these opportunities.

I think there's still a lot of work to be done in getting to individuals, even in those early stages.  I believe most people think you have to wait until you're on a job to face discrimination. They might not understand their rights, even in these type of pre-apprentice and apprentice programs.  Most of them feel like they get washed out in those things, and, you know, there's no more opportunity for them.

But we need them to know that through all the stages of the employment process that they still fall under the protection of this agency.  And I believe that many of the community-based organizations, some of which are represented here today, can play an important role in getting that information out and amplifying the voice of those individuals who might not know their rights, or even if they know them are not as comfortable with exercising them.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Okay, Reverend Blue, what should we do?

REV. BLUE:  What should we do?  We should have open forums like this, bringing this organization to the community, having workshops, bringing the organization to the community, letting people know their rights.  Some people don't know.

And giving them that information, I think, will also help them be a better employee as well, better able to stand up for themselves, better able to even speak more confidently.  Because right now there's a lot of fear, a fear in employment, fear of losing my job, fear of my family not being taken care of. Even in hospitals, because you work with the hospitals as well if there's any type of discrimination there.

That will also put everybody on notice that I'm empowered.  And that's what your people need to be empowered to know their rights and empowered to be able to speak confidently without fear.

In the Tops shooting, people went to the store without the absence of fear, not going there knowing that they would not come back home.  And that's one of the things that's disrupted our city in that perspective is that now, as African Americans, we have to look at our surroundings and try to define an exit plan if something were to go wrong.

The absence of fear was what's been disrupted in our community in the city of Buffalo.  And now we have to build that back up.  So arm me with the tools that I need in order for me to be successful so that I can pass along to my children and my children's children to be successful.

So bringing this to the community, sharing with the community, and sharing with the members, knowing our rights, empowers us to speak up, to stand up, and to be up front in all that we're doing.  So having forums like this, having workshops, I believe would be helpful to give our community what it needs.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  Dr. Ward?

DR. WARD:  Thank you.  So I've been thinking about this question.  And I wrote down a couple of things that were going through my mind.  One thing is, like, at a university we're involved in multiple searches for faculty members, staff members.  And I think what's so interesting about searches is that there's no uniformity at all so a search.  And I've been at multiple institutions on searches.

And so what would happen if, just like as a researcher, I have to do the IRB training.  So for federal funds, I have to make sure that I have human subjects trained.  What would it look like if, as an employer, I had to be trained, and I had to then onboard everybody with that training?

Because that's exactly, that's what happens in the research world. Everybody gets the same training. And if you're on a research project, you all get it. So that's the first thing.

The second thing is we all get pay stubs.  Wouldn't it be neat if there was a statement on our pay stubs that talked about what our rights are.  That's something that's uniform across all of them.

Third, what Mr. Beauford is talking about, the feeding of people, I also want us to remember that high schools are feeders into apprenticeship programs.  And if we're thinking about who's pushed out of schools, then that's a racial equity consideration that needs to get to the forefront of these apprenticeship programs.

So schools need to be brought into this conversation about what is their role and responsibility in promoting economic opportunities through employment.  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  All right, Ms. McEachon.

MS. McEACHON:  So I sit on a few boards, and one of the boards I sit on when you agree, you say ditto.  So I'm going to ditto all of these things that I just heard.  Because I think it is absolutely fantastic.

And, you know, I want to just piggy back off of something Reverend Blue talked about in terms of a better employee.  And looking at it again through the criminal justice lens, because, I mean, while I can bring it up, I'm going to while we're sitting here, you know, I'm married to a Buffalo police officer.  And my daughter is an active duty Marine.  And so I have a unique experience of understanding systems as the systems, right, at play.

And while I think that we need to look at employers on a large scale, I also think that internally, right, when we talk about better employees, when we talk about happy employees, and that they yield a different outcome, we need to pay attention to those spaces, specifically.

And if we're not right now, I think we should, and take a look at what needs to be either refined or undone to allot for a different mindset, a different framework, that then is going to have a ripple effect outward.

I still think we need to look at employers on a large scale, certainly not saying that that isn't important.  But I really would love to see, because in my experience, my husband was at the Tops shooting.  He was one of the first officers to show up, right.

And we're still undoing what he witnessed for hours, you know, standing in the supermarket, both bringing people out and then just standing in there, right.  That doesn't disappear.  It's never going to disappear.

But we need to look at these spaces as well.  Because if there is a stress, it's going to ripple out.  And it's never going to heal itself.  And so I just, I strongly encourage, if it hasn't been done before, and maybe it has, I don't know, but a look in this particular system at how it's operating and is it best serving our communities?  Thank you.

CHAIR BURROWS:  Thank you.  And that concludes today's session.  We could stay here all day in terms of the content and the interest.  But I know that the City of Buffalo needs its city hall back.  And we are so grateful for the opportunity to have been here.

Thank you again to each of you for your very, very powerful statements.  Your insights have been just absolutely invaluable.  And we at the Commission view this as the first in many conversations.  We're going to have other listening sessions to bring in not just this community but communities across the country to find ways for people to reach us.

But I have to say, you should know that, while we are being thoughtful and deliberative, we are also hard at work right now.  And so we're going to take this back, we're going to work on a bipartisan basis to figure out what that blueprint should be going forward.  But we're also going to share, right now, with everybody in the Commission what we have learned so that they will, as they do their work day to day, be able to fold this in in real time.

In closing, I'd like to recognize the many, many EEOC staff who really worked so tirelessly on this effort.  And I'd especially like to thank our colleagues from the New York District Office and from Buffalo, and our director here in the Buffalo Office, just tremendously thankful.

All of our colleagues here, both investigators, litigators, we are really, really, really grateful for your work.  It has been amazing, and it has taken, you know, a lot of hours to prepare for this.  But it was so important to connect with this community.

Many thanks to the Office of Information Technology colleagues who are here, believe it or not, and the Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs.  We could not have done it without all of you traveling to Buffalo and helping us coordinate logistical aspects of the listening session.

We have both the director of our New York District Office, and the acting director, and also the, you know, the regional attorney for the entire New York District Office.

I'd like to acknowledge, of course, Vice Chair Samuels and each of my colleagues on the Commission for their work, as well as well as the support of their staff and their tremendous contributions.

And, of course, to thank my own staff who have done a truly phenomenal amount of work, so grateful to you.  Some of them are here, some of them are not here. And particularly wanted to thank my chief of staff, a native of Buffalo, Elizabeth Fox-Sollomon, for everything she's done.

I owe and we owe, all of us, a special debt of gratitude to the Buffalo Common Council president, Darius Pridgen, and his staff for allowing us to be here today in the Common Council chambers, that is phenomenal, and to use this building for our listening session.

Thank you to the Executive Secretariat and the Office of Legal Counsel also for their support.  And, of course, to Jim Montour who I think I thanked at the beginning but just have to say it's been tremendously useful.  I don't know where he is, but very, very, very grateful because, you know, we have really felt the hospitality of the City of Good Neighbors with all of you.

So with that, finally, thank you to members of the public who were able to join us throughout the day today.  I know this is a tough time of day, but it was important for us to be here now.

We are going to be holding the Commission hearing record open for 15 days, and we invite those of you in the audience here in Buffalo or virtually to send us your thoughts and written comments on the subject of today's listening session.

If you don't make it in 15 days, we still want to hear from you.  So please don't leave that, but this particular record will be closed in 15 days.  But we will still be taking comments.  Because, again, this is the first in a series of listening sessions to drive towards that blueprint, that strategic enforcement plan to be thoughtful on all of these issues.

So you can learn more about how to submit comments on our website at  And with that, we are adjourned.  I thank you.

(Whereupon, the above‑entitled matter went off the record.)