Cuomo: Use the tools you already have to fight hiring discrimination

You only have to look as far as the New York state government workforce to see that institutionalized discrimination is alive and well in our state. New York state employs over 150,393 people, but as our state's population has grown more diverse, the number of minorities working in state government remains virtually unchanged since the 1990s.

Hispanics comprise 18.6 percent of our state’s population, per the U.S. Census Bureau, yet only 4.8 percent of the state government workforce, according to the 2014 Workforce Management Report. The report also found that while Asian-Americans make up 8.5 percent of the population, only 3.58 percent of them are in the state government workforce.

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo created a commission to address the gross underrepresentation of minorities in the state workforce. The governor appointed two of my colleagues who care deeply about this issue, Marcos Crespo and Nick Perry. However, the governor already possesses the tools to address this problem.

Recently my colleagues and I signed a letter to Gov. Cuomo asking that he comply with a 2006 law and make nine appointments to the existing Commission on Increasing Diversity in the State Government Workforce. In June of 2011, over three dozen elected officials called on the governor to do the same thing and reconstitute this commission.

To date, the governor has not made the appointments as both required by law and requested by members of the Assembly and the Senate. Moreover, the commission has not met since 2010 and did not issue, as also mandated by the law, two follow-up reports to its original report produced in 2010. Before it became dormant, the commission recommended that the state of New York should have a chief diversity officer, which former Gov. David Paterson put in place. The commission also was looking into how each agency’s affirmative action officers could be protected, free of political interference. Currently those officers are political appointments and can be summarily dismissed. The commission’s concerns and recommendations were ignored.

The problem of minority underrepresentation in the workforce does not just exist in state government agencies. Through its exams, the Department of Civil Service controls over 650,000 municipal jobs across the state, another vast workforce in which the scarcity of Hispanics is also of deep concern.

According to a recent report by the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, “it is projected that between 2012 (and) 2020, Hispanics will account for 75 percent of the labor force growth across the nation.”

Hispanics, at 67 percent, also have a higher labor force participation rate than all other groups. The labor force participation rate is measured by the share of population, age 16 and older, either employed or looking for work. This means that almost seven out of every 10 Hispanics are active in the labor force.

Currently, the Hispanic share of the U.S. labor force is 18 percent and will rise to 21 percent in 2020. This means almost one in five workers will be Hispanic by 2020.

Back in 2011, New York state agreed to pay out $45 million to African-American and Hispanic plaintiffs who brought a class-action lawsuit over the state’s longstanding discriminatory hiring practices – a pattern that continues and which has resulted in the persistent lack of diversity in our state government workforce.

With the Department of Civil Service already hobbled by workforce cuts, lack of leadership and many vacancies, the commission needs to finish its mission and the governor must enable this process now. This issue is as important to us as any current civil rights issue confronting our state.

Luis Sepúlveda is a Democrat representing the 87th Assembly District in the Bronx, a treasurer of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus and board member of the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.