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By Ken Epstein

The City of Oakland’s Race and Fairness Department recently released a report calling on construction unions to drop their historic and racially exclusive membership policies if they want the city to sign a contract ensuring that unions receive the lion’s share of city-funded construction jobs. projects.

The city council has for several years come under behind-the-scenes pressure from building unions and their allied community groups to sign a binding contract, called a Project Work Agreement (PLA), ensuring that most jobs on construction projects. the city will go to the union. members.

Most building trades unions did not report the number of blacks and women members of their organizations. Nor have they taken steps to remove barriers to entry and the sometimes hostile work environments that prevent African Americans and women from accessing unionized construction jobs.

So far, the 70-page racial equity analysis report, “Improving the Effectiveness of Project Agreements,” which examines current conditions and makes proposals for change, has been largely ignored by the media and most of Oakland’s accountability activists.

The report was completed in December 2020 by Estolano Councilors and the San Francisco Foundation and submitted to City Council by the Department of Race and Equity.

The San Francisco Foundation convened an advisory committee made up of representatives from public agencies, community organizations and the construction trades in Alameda County to examine strategies to diversify the construction workforce through through PLA. Julian Gross of Renee Public Law Group, Junius Williams Consulting and others also supported the study.

Local data, submitted by unions in July 2020, indicates that “many disparities” in PLAs currently exist in Oakland. However, data was only submitted to the city by 10 of the 28 construction trades. In all likelihood, it is the unions that have achieved the best results.

  • 98% of the current data sample members are men;
  • 25% of building trades live in Alameda County (not necessarily Oakland) and 75% do not;
  • Union members in the samples were 54% white, 35% Hispanic / Latino, 5% black, 3% Asian, and 4% other or unknown.
  • Journeymen (the most qualified and the best paid) represent 79% of the members, while 21% are apprentices;

These survey results confirm “that current data from sales affiliates does not fully reflect the landscape of the local construction workforce, as sales affiliates do not collect data consistently and are not mandated. to collect and report them, ”according to the report.

The current economic disparity in opportunities for women and African Americans in the construction trades is national in scope and historically conditioned, according to a report to city council from Darlene Flynn, director of the race and equity department:

“The inequality of outcomes is the result of more than 200 years of institutional policies and practices that have excluded black, indigenous and colored BIPOC groups from fair and equitable access to paid employment and wealth creation. . “

“The government has a responsibility to right the historic wrongs in which it has been involved, and the City of Oakland is committed to addressing the disparities through intentional equity strategies in everything the city does,” said Flynn in his report.

A graph in the report shows that although black workers make up 12% of the nation’s workforce, they get about 6% of construction jobs for 25 years, from 1995 to present.

National unemployment rates highlight inequalities. In July 2021, overall unemployment during the pandemic remained at 6.5%. Unemployment for whites was below 5.1%, unemployment for blacks was significantly higher at 10.1%, and Hispanic / Latino unemployment was 8.4%

The report lists some of the persistent obstacles that currently maintain the under-representation of blacks and women in the construction trades:

  • “A very different, opaque, sometimes subjective entry process for each profession (a bit like trying to be accepted into an exclusive fraternity);
  • Disparities in participation and completion rates in apprenticeship programs, mainly for black workers and women;
  • BIPOC members have been disproportionately employed in lower paying apprenticeship programs;
  • Small local entrepreneurs, many of whom are not unionized but hire more women and African Americans, are often excluded from city contracts under PLA;
  • Poor reporting of race and gender data to unions and “ineffective / inconsistent monitoring of contractors’ obligations”;
  • Low funding for pre-apprenticeship programs;
  • Worksite culture unwelcoming for under-represented groups, lack of mentoring for under-represented groups;
  • Lack of public accountability for equity outcomes.

This is the first in a series of articles on project labor agreements and racial equity analysis. Future articles will focus on the concerns of black construction workers and small contractors in Oakland and solutions that would produce more equitable results.

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About Michael S. Montanez

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