Black Workers Call for City Council Summit on Discrimination in Hiring on City Projects

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Community meeting at the San Antonio Senior Center in the Fruitvale District to dis¬cuss racial disparities in hiring African American workers and contractors on City of Oakland building projects, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. Photo 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 councilmem­bers 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.

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