Sen. Ford's letter to Boeing is the wrong message at the wrong time 

A Bad Idea

Sen. Ford's letter to Boeing is the wrong message at the wrong time

There is something remarkably inhospitable about making demands upon a brand new guest, right after they have accepted your invitation. I do not profess to be an expert on Southern hospitality, but Sen. Robert Ford's recent letter to Boeing, demanding that it divulge its minority hiring practices before they have even broken ground on their new plant, strikes me as wrong on a number of levels.

At best, it is rude, self-serving, and embarrassing that Ford would make this demand after the deal to bring Boeing here has already been struck — and I say this as an African-American who believes strongly in equal economic opportunities for all.

At worst, Ford's ham-fisted letter shows a startling disconnect between the Black Caucus — on whose behalf Ford purportedly wrote his letter — and the real power brokers in the state. It also shows how far we have to go in South Carolina before economic development is seen as a benefit to all citizens, rather than a zero sum game where black economic interests must be pitted versus white economic interests.

First, it seems to me that airplanes need to be built by qualified personnel, regardless of their race. Companies that strive to extend employment opportunities to underrepresented groups should be commended, but when I am sitting at Charleston International getting ready to board a Dreamliner one day, I want to know that plane was built by the best machinists available, not just the formerly unemployed from Ford's district.

Ford's letter presupposes that if Boeing were to hire people based on merit alone, this would somehow be discriminatory, or that blacks would be unfairly passed over for employment. What other reason is there to request a company's hiring policy, other than the presupposition that the company was inclined to disregard it? There are already federal laws in force that prohibit discriminatory hiring practices based on race. As we welcome a highly sought-after corporate citizen to the Lowcountry, do we thank them for selecting us by suggesting out of the gate that they might be racially biased in their hiring practices?

Secondly, if there were going to be some requirements placed on Boeing in order to promote extra efforts to hire minority workers, would that not be discussed before approving the incentives package rather than after it? More specifically, if those who brokered the deal with Boeing wanted specific minority hiring goals to be part of Boeing package, they surely would have included those conditions.

Ford's recent letter is akin to a fringe group in Rio now saying to the Olympic selection committee, "Thanks for selecting our city with this gracious honor, but can you guarantee us a certain amount of gold medals as well?" Not only is the request improper, as it comes from a group not specifically authorized to speak on behalf of the whole during the negotiations, but it is also untimely.

Boeing might have been open to the possibility of sponsoring specific minority hiring programs at the beginning of negotiations to come here, but it would have no incentive to do so at this point. Ford's demands, after the fact, clearly show that he was not at the bargaining table on the front end, which is when any reasonable concerns about fair hiring practices should have been brought up.

The most distressing part of this spectacle is that it wreaks of racial politics at a time when we should be united in celebrating a watershed moment in our state's economic development. Ford is dead last in every money count for his long shot bid to be the Democratic nominee for governor of South Carolina, and as he has shown in the past, when all else fails, he reaches for the lowest common denominator. It is not clear that his letter to Boeing will help him in his race for governor or win him any votes, but he surely will not win any contests for good manners any time soon.

Dwayne Green ran against Sen. Robert Ford for the Democratic nomination for South Carolina District 42 Senate seat in 2008.

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