By Ken Epstein
African American contractors and construction workers are opposing a proposal that has been presented to the City Council requiring that all jobs on city projects be awarded to building trades unions that discriminate against Black workers.
“It’s a pure power play right now,” said one speaker, who is a member of four unions. “The (unions) are not designed to grow their membership. They are only designed to make the strong stronger. If anything, the unions are a detriment to anyone starting off (in construction).”
In response to charges that unions want to control the hiring on all city projects while excluding African American members, the City Council had previously asked the building trades to submit reports on the race and gender of their membership.
So far, only six of 28 union locals have submitted that information, according to city staff.
Reports by construction workers on the job indicate that African Americans are denied membership in almost all of these unions, while Latinos only find work in the laborers’ and to some extent in the carpenters’ unions. The higher paid trades, such as electricians, plumbers and heavy equipment operators are almost all white.
Speakers at the Monday meeting, where council members Noel Gallo, District 5; and Loren Taylor, District 6, were in attendance, want the City Council to hear their concerns, not to be steamrolled by powerful interests into an agreement without a full discussion of the issues.
They are asking the council to hold a work session or a community summit rather than voting on the labor proposal at a council meeting, where speakers would only receive one minute to talk, and important issues about persistent discrimination in the building trades might be buried.
The meeting was the third and final community engagement session called by the City Council to examine ways to mitigate inequities in a potential Project Labor Agreement, backed by local building trade unions and their supporters, requiring developers on city projects to exclusively hire union workers for labor, while non-union contractors would be limited in their use of their non-union workers for projects that are built on city-owned land and or involve city funding.
Speakers also expressed concern that the building trades only sent people to the first community meeting several weeks ago at Castlemont High School but did not come back to second or third meetings, apparently not interested in engaging with Black Oaklanders about the issues they are raising.
This article originally appeared in Oakland Post.