WOMEN CONTRACTORS DENIED SPECIAL STATUS

Jeannie H. Cross Capitol bureau
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Sunday, July 27, 1986

The state Department of Transportation has routinely refused to certify female contractors as women-owned businesses if they employ their husbands and sons or have male relatives in associated companies.


By automatically assuming that the men are in control of the companies because they often perform the manual work or job oversight, the department denies these women a designation that would give them an edge in getting federal and state highway work. "It's infuriating," said Alice Bayly, a former aircraft mechanic who now is president of Kingsley Arms Inc. of Schaghticoke. Bayly, whose husband and children are active in the business, has twice been turned down in attempts to win women-business-enterprise (WBE) status.


"Lee Iacocca hasn't put on any bumpers lately, either," she said, suggesting the department fails to recognize the management skills she and other women are using to run contracting companies.


In the Albany area alone, The Times Union has found five women-owned companies, including Bayly's, that have been denied WBE status because the department believed the firms were run by male relatives. The women, who held title to the companies and managed them, lacked "technical expertise," the department said in rejection letters to the firms.


In this same geographic area, the department has granted WBE status to only a dozen companies, one of which is headed by a woman who took over the business from her husband after he suffered two heart attacks.


Mae Boyer, who was denied WBE status for Advance Welding and Fabricating Inc. in Green Island - a company she started in 1984 - was rejected in large part because her husband is the firm's certified welder.


"In essence, they said I'm doing nothing. I wear many, many, many hats. I take care of the bank work. I handle the job costing. I do the payroll. I do the marketing; that takes about two to three days a week on the road to make sales calls. I do order some of the materials. I pick up the materials. I clean the bathrooms," Boyer said.


Construction industry leaders say the department's pattern not only discriminates against women, but also hampers white-male-owned companies. Such contractors must subcontract with WBEs and their minority- owned equivalents in order to meet federal and state affirmative-action rules.


"You just can't find minority subcontractors in some areas," said Michael J. Misenhimer, spokesman for the Subcontractors Association.


Transportation department officials say they may have erred in rejecting some WBE applications, notably by overlooking women's management role.


Thomas Boehm, acting director of the department's Transportation Affirmative Action Programs Office, said last week that officials may have been too strict in interpreting federal and state guidelines, which were established to help women and minorities break into the traditionally white- male construction industry by requiring white-male-owned firms to subcontract a portion of their jobs to women- owned and minority-owned firms.


Boehm said his office was trying to guard against the situation in which a male-owned company is transferred to a woman solely to attract construction work set aside for WBEs. The department has likewise cracked down on what it believes are bogus minority- owned firms created by white-owned companies to allow them to meet minority subcontracting requirements.


But in being so tough, Boehm acknowledged, the department may have slighted women-managed firms that employ male relatives in blue collar jobs.


Specifically, Boehm said, "Maybe we've been too careful" in interpreting "technical expertise" to mean knowledge of construction materials and techniques. "We're broadening that definition to include management of a business," he said.


Boehm said his office is paying heed to a recent top-level department decision to grant WBE status to a company rejected twice previously.


That company, Cristo Demolition Inc. of Albany is owned and operated by Antoinette Cristo.


Cristo has been seeking WBE status since 1984. She was first rejected in July 1985 and received a second rejection in December 1985.


In denying her application, the department cited the fact that her father owned a construction company where she once worked. It also said that the father, Sebastian, had a controlling interest in her firm - a comment that the department itself later acknowledged to be incorrect.


The department also noted that Cristo's brother, Sebastian T., was involved in Cristo Demolition and said that "through his role in (the father's firm) Sebastian T. has demonstrated the ability to manage/operate/direct a demolition company." The decision overlooked the fact that Cristo herself had learned the business ropes in her father's business.


Cristo says she believes she was held to an impossible standard - one that would seemingly require that she disinherit her family in order to work in the business she grew up in.


"I did follow in my father's footsteps," she said. But at the same time, Cristo said, "I make major decisions."


The panel of top department officials, who heard Cristo's appeal from the rejection by Boehm's office, agreed.


The panel cited favorably Cristo's work experience with her father and her resume, which shows courses in business management and blueprint reading.


Thus, Cristo Demolition finally won WBE certification on April 29 - almost two years after it was first sought.


A second woman-owned firm rejected by the department has since won WBE status from another of the state agencies that certifies women- and minority- owned companies for work set aside under affirmative action rules.


Vera Rappazzo, owner of Rappazzo Electric Co. in Albany, was certified by the Department of Environmental Conservation on June 5.


All WBE and minority-business- enterprise applications go to the state Commerce Department, which parcels them out to different state agencies for certification review.


When Rappazzo's application went before the Department of Transportation in 1980, she was rejected by a "Dear Applicant" letter, to which was attached a list of standards used in determining what is a bona-fide WBE.


The only standard which Rappazzo was charged with not meeting stated: "The minority or female ownership and control shall be real and continuing and not created solely to take advantage of special or set-aside programs aimed at minority business development."


Rappazzo was irked because her business had been established and run for more than a year before she applied, which she said would indicate it was not established just to get WBE set-aside work.


In addition, she said, she owned 51 percent of the company when it was founded in 1979 and expanded her ownership to 79 percent after her husband, who is a co-owner, had a stroke.


Boehm said the fact that Rappazzo's husband and a son were involved in the company raised "a big red flag."


However, EnCon, which got her WBE application the second time it was submitted to the Commerce Department, had no problem with Rappazzo's situation.


"They were very nice. They came down, they asked me the right questions" about the electrical business, Rappazzo said.


Asking the right questions is a major issue with the women.


Alice Bayly has a tape recording of her hearing before Boehm's office in which she - who constructs, renovates and demolishes buildings - was asked about highway fill.


"We're not building 787," Bayly said. "And that's not what I want to do."


There also were some questions that were not asked.


Thus, even though Bayly was grilled about her husband's role as the firm's job estimator and her sons' employment as the firm's field superintendents, she was never asked about her two daughters' employment with the company. The daughters handle office and paper work, including the confidential bids by which the firm seeks work.


In an undated letter sent to Bayly by minority business specialist Juan Castro, she was told that her company "is most accurately described as being woman-owned but family-operated." The letter then made reference to only the male members of the family.


The letter, which also misspells Bayly's name throughout, states:


"The males in the family possess construction-related knowledge, skills and abilities which are complimentary to Mrs. Bayle's... Mrs. Bayle may be fairly described as being the firm's general manager. Thus, the business is accurately described as being family- run; not woman-run."


Schaghticoke Town Supervisor Mark Zaretzki, who accompanied Bayly to the department WBE hearing, said, "The sense I have is the hearing was not intended to review her application but to ratify the decision that had been made" to reject Kingsley Arms.


"They're discriminating in their own affirmative-action program," said one area woman contractor denied WBE status, who asked not to be identified.


"The pattern (of rejecting female firms with male relatives) exists across the country," said Mary A. Johnson, WBE chairwoman for the National Association for Women in Contracting.


The association is lobbying federal authorities for a standard WBE certification program nationwide, said Johnson, who owns a plumbing company in Boston.


Dorothy Erickson, who heads Women Construction Owners and Executives and is a steel-company owner in San Francisco, said family relations should be "completely irrelevant" to determining WBE status.


"If somebody has somebody available to help her - more power to her," said Erickson.