March 8, 1998 in Nation/World

Tired Of The Losing End Local Firm Hopes I-200 Will Bring More Work

Virginia De Leon Staff writer
 

Frank Gurney didn’t have much when he started his guardrail business in 1959.

The money he saved came from two jobs - he striped parking lots during the day and worked as a bouncer at night.

He had only an eighth-grade education.

“He wasn’t on an equal playing field then,” said his stepson, Jim Stewart, who took over Gurney’s company in 1989 with his brother, Tom.

“There were better companies than ourselves. We’ve built a track record and we’ve put in our time. Why can’t everyone else?”

Their firm, Frank Gurney Inc., has submitted the lowest bids for dozens of government projects since 1982. But the company never won those contracts.

The problem? The Stewarts are white.

The contracts were awarded to minority- or women-owned firms that submitted higher bids.

It’s reverse discrimination, Tom Stewart said.

That’s why the brothers support Initiative 200, a measure that would ban preferential treatment of women and minorities for state and local government hiring, contracts and college admission.

“I don’t give a damn about color,” Tom Stewart said. “If I’m a business, I care about who’s going to do the best job for me.”

But the rejection letters come each week from contractors in charge of government projects.

“Thank you for the guardrail quotation on the … project,” one letter said. “Of the three bids I received, yours was the lowest but in order to meet the (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) goals, we will have to award the guardrail to a D.B.E. firm.”

The Stewarts have lost some contracts even though their bids were as much as $50,000 lower than the companies that got the work.

Still, he said he isn’t entirely against affirmative action. He’s all for training and recruiting people of color for jobs, he said.

But he doesn’t think it’s fair to make up for mistakes against minorities by committing an injustice against white men through quotas.

“It’s wrong to take from one and give to another,” Tom Stewart said. “That’s discrimination.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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