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Profiles in Excellence: Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey putting all of Minnesota to work

By Harry Colbert, Jr.
Managing Editor

Commissioner Kevin Lindsey

Commissioner Kevin Lindsey

U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis is an unquestioned marvel in design and construction; but just as impressive as its majestic look is the diverse workforce that turned concept into reality.

At a price tag of $1.1 billion, the home of the Vikings and other sporting and entertainment events for years to come put paychecks in the pockets of more than 8,000 construction workers. That totaled out to about $700 million going directly to area tradesmen and tradeswomen. Thirty-six percent of those workers were people of color. Nine percent were women. In addition to those who built the stadium, a great number of security, ushers and concession workers at the 1.75 million square foot facility are people of color. A large part of that diversity is due to the work of Minnesota commissioner of Human Rights, Kevin Lindsey.

“I worked closely with the Vikings and the (Minnesota) Sports (Facilities) Authority to ensure all goals were met,” said Lindsey. “And I was so very happy to work with Mortenson and Thor to achieve participation goals.”

Mortenson Construction was the lead builder on the stadium project and Thor Construction was the lead subcontractor. Thor is a minority owned firm. In all, nine percent of construction contracts on the project went to minority owned firms and 11 percent went to women-owned businesses.

In 2011 Lindsey was named commissioner of Human Rights by Gov. Mark Dayton. In his role Lindsey enforces the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, religion, creed, nationality, age, disability, sexual orientation and other characteristics protected under the act. But Lindsey has used his position as commissioner not just to enforce goals; he has used it to change the playing field.

Prior to Lindsey being named Human Rights commissioner, workforce participation rates for people of color on construction projects over 10,000 hours in Hennepin and Ramsey counties was just 11 percent and female participation did not exceed 4.5 percent in any county within Minnesota. That all changed in 2012 when Lindsey adjusted workforce participation rates for people of color in Hennepin and Ramsey counties to 32 percent and to 22 percent in the counties of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington.

For Lindsey, ensuring all Minnesotans have an equal opportunity to earn a living is simply the right thing to do. He said it is also in the state’s best interest.

“We still have some folks that need to appreciate the dramatic shift in demographics and fully embrace it as a positive for the state,” said Lindsey. “We shouldn’t be hesitant to embrace this diversity that will make Minnesota richer culturally, spiritually and economically.”

Lindsey said one need look no further than many state Republican legislators to see that workforce diversity is not valued by some in Minnesota.

“Some in the Legislature, when it was under a Republican majority, sought to cut the (Department of Human Rights) budget by 80 percent, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that everyone is for the Department of Human Rights,” said Lindsey. “Some would argue once we elected an African-American president that such a department ceased to be needed. But when we look at racial disparities in home ownership, criminal justice, loans … employment, we see bias still plays a role.”

Lindsey said his office along with those who participated in the building of U.S. Bank Stadium was recognized on a national level by the U.S. Department of Labor for their accomplishments in workforce diversity. He said though his office is state specific, he regularly encourages those in municipal and county governments to follow the state’s lead in boosting diversity goals in hiring and contracting.

“We’re working to see this is the norm and not the exception in Minnesota,” said Lindsey.

October 19, 2016
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