Black Workers Receive Only 9 Percent of Hours on City- Funded Building Projects

Chase Bank near Oakland City Hall. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

A new City of Oakland report showd that during the past two years African American workers obtained a little over 9 percent of journeyman and apprentice hours on city-funded projects, though African Americans make up 28 percent of Oakland’s population.

The 34-page report, dated Jan. 10, 2018, shows that African Americans received 9.31 percent of the 659,544.32 hours worked on projects during the two-year period. Gross wages paid for the hours worked were $24,146,750.09.

The Oakland Post obtained the report, covering 2015 to 2017, after filing a California Public Records Act request.

Asians received 1.6 percent, Caucasians 20.09 percent, Hispanics 57.17 percent and Native Americans 0.07 percent of the work. The report does not break down journeyman and apprentice hours by ethnicity, though African American workers tend to be concentrated in the lower paid apprentice positions.

“We still have a tremendous disparity across ethnicities in the hiring on these city-funded projects,” said Brian Beveridge of OaklandWORKS.

“Based on other things we know, this reflects disparities in the building trades,” he said. High number of workers on sites are Latino, he said, which represents increased Latino membership in the Laborers Union and a few others, but the building trades unions overall remain segregated.

Among affiliated Building Trades unions are Laborers, Carpenters, Electrical Workers,Operating Engineers, Plasterers and Glazers.

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County has so far been unwilling to release information on the racial and ethnic composition of member unions.

“We would like to see a greater effort on the part of all the building trade unions to recruit from all ethnicities and get more balance in their membership,” said Beveridge. “We’re a union town and we support collective bargaining,” he said. “But we’re not seeing equity in hiring on publically funded projects. The solution can’t all be put on contractors. The trade unions have to play a role.”

Margaret Gordon, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project co-director, told the Post that the failure of the building trades to hire and retain Black workers was the result of racism in the unions and economic obstacles to working in the building trades.

“Internal racism in the unions is a root cause,” she said.

In addition, the lack of retention of Black workers who do obtain apprenticeship positions often has to with the workers not having do the “resources to get from one job to the next job.”

“They can’t work if they don’t have the money for the tools, gas money, a reliable car, being able to buy lunch, pay for childcare, all those day-to-today things.”

A number of workers do not complete their apprenticeships, and there is little financial incentive to builders to reach their apprenticeship hour goals, Gordon said. “They pay liquidated damages, which is only. 1.5 times the person’s hourly wage. That needs to be need fixed. Liquidated damages should be 10 times a person’s hourly wages.”

The policy of the Army Base project establishes a flat rate of $20 per shortfall hour and is not tied to the wages that would have been paid to the worker.

Gordon said the participation of African Americans as apprentices and journeymen has been in decline since the construction projects in the wake of the Cypress freeway collapse in 1989.

“Those numbers have never recovered,” she said.

By the Oakland Post’s deadline, neither Mayor Libby Schaaf nor Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council, replied to requests for comment.


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