Who will build Oakland? - The future of construction development in the city’s urban communities.

Aug 4 '19 | By Ray

Last week the City of Oakland hosted their first of a series of three ‘community engagement meetings’ to discuss the future of construction development in the city’s urban communities.

Bay Area building trades unions are expected to back the implementation of a ‘Project Labor Agreement (PLA) or what is also referred to as a ‘Community Workforce Agreement’ (CWA) that would require developers to hire only union labor and contractors for projects that are built on Oakland city-owned land and or any project that involves city funding.

Local area black contractors and black tradesmen attending the first outreach meeting last Thursday in East Oakland were concerned that they would be excluded from job opportunities on future city projects in their own neighborhoods and surrounding areas, if a PLA was implemented without protections to black tradesmen and companies.

Speaking at the first city held meeting, according to Post News, black contractor Eddie Dillard said, “A Project Labor Agreements benefits white contractors. 90% Black contractors are non-union.”

Many bay area building trades unions, who dispatch workers to projects have been historically segregated, and majority white organizations, admitting almost no Black workers. And historically, these labor unions have been unwilling to release data on racial composition within its workforce.

“We have been asking the unions for 10 years how many African Amer­ican members they have, but they have refused” to release the data, said Dillard.

Most of those locals “have zero Blacks in them,” Dillard said.

Union training programs are not located in Oakland but in outlying areas, like Benicia and San Jose, he said. “We have been asking the unions for 10 years how many African American members they have, but they have refused” to release the data, Dillard said.

The construction industry in Oakland and across the United States has a long recorded history of racial discrimination within its workforce. Oakland, CA has a long history of black tradesmen and contractors fighting for the fair treatment of their brothers and sisters in the trades, such as Joseph Debro and Raymon Dones who paved the way for black contractors and black workers in the Bay area.

Construction is hands down one of the most lucrative and rewarding careers for young black men in the United States without a high school, but yet thousands of them have been discriminated against, and in some cases completely locked out of an industry that their black forefathers spearheaded in America 400 years ago.

Recently, the unemployment rate for black people in the Bay Area reached an alarming 19% just 6-years ago, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data, and although the unemployment rate has gone across the state, many black Oakland residences have not felt the change.

In contrast, a 19% unemployment rate for white workers would be declared a city emergency if that data was true.

While a traditional PLA could benefit the over 30 unions in Alameda County, black construction tradesmen and contractors are worried that if the PLA agreement is  improperly implemented it would further solidify the staunch racism and discriminatory hiring practices running amuck in the Bay area construction trades unions.

The Oakland city council is expected to come to some type of agreement with the politically powerful labor unions and implement a PLA. Currently, there is no formal Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on the table for the city to consider. 

But what about the black working class citizens of the city, the voters, the black men and women who build the city and are pushed to the wayside thru racist practices?

Darlene Flynn, director of the Department of Race and Equity in an interview with the Oakland Post, said “in evaluating how an agreement might be written to produce more equitable out­comes, we need to look at the barriers, and it’s best to talk to those who are closest to the challenges.”

In fact, cities and states are increasingly adopting “targeted hire” standards and pre-apprenticeship programs to ensure that local residents and historically disadvantaged black residents, low-income residents, and residents with past involvement with the criminal justice system are able to obtain construction jobs created with the support of public expenditures.

San Francisco, for example, has significantly expanded access to publicly supported construction projects by mandating that local residents complete 30 percent of a project’s total work hours and 50 percent of its apprenticeship hours as well as by partnering with industry, labor, and community nonprofits to create an 18-week pre-apprenticeship program.

And the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority adopted a policy in 2012 that requires that 20 percent of employees on construction projects be apprentices and that 10 percent be from disadvantaged communities.

However, President Trump is undermining the power of these sorts of programs to raise standards for working people. In 2017, the Trump administration announced that it was ending a pilot program at the U.S. Department of Transportation that allowed communities to establish local hire preferences.

Often acclaimed as effective, pre-apprentice programs have been a way for construction companies to pay workers less for the same work, and is also a way for some non-profits to act as a gate-keepers to the construction industry, often assigned with the task of filtering through potential black tradesmen to find the best candidates for entry level work that tradesmen of other races are outright hired for without completing a ‘Pre-apprentice program.’

Currently, the Trump administration is establishing a parallel apprenticeship system that will allow third-party industry groups outside of the construction trade unions to develop construction apprenticeship programs accredited by institutions approved at the Federal level by the Department of Labor.


And although sometimes effect at recruiting talented black tradesmen and women, these types of pre-apprentice and apprenticeship programs do not help veteran black tradesmen and women at all remedy work force discrimination they encounter on a daily basis at job-sites across the U.S.

And although President Obama took executive action to ensure that companies comply with wage laws, and anti-discrimination protections before they receive federal contracts, President Trump signed legislation to roll back some these protections before they were fully implemented.

Lawmakers in Congress should require companies that apply for federal infrastructure funds to report on their record of compliance with workplace laws. If they have a poor track record, lawmakers should require them to come into compliance before they are able to receive any federal funding.

In Oakland, “These are questions that need to be asked and answered,” said Flynn.

“In these meetings, we are trying to find out who has been affected, what their experiences have been, who might benefit and whether they ran into barriers that have resulted in the disparities that we see, looking at how we can incorporate ways to offset these barriers,” said City of Oakland Employment Services Supervisor, Jonothan Dumas, according to Post News Group.

Some of the questions the city wants to address:

*Should a defined percent­age of the hours on city projects go to local workers (such as 50 percent)?

*Should there be a require­ment to hire the formerly incar­cerated?

*Should some of the jobs be reserved for people who live in certain Oakland zip codes?

*What should be the require­ments for hiring local appren­tices?

*Should there be funding for training and removing barriers to employment?

The next community en­gagement meeting will be held Saturday, Aug. 10, 10 a.m. to noon, at the West Oakland Youth Center, 3233 Market St. in Oakland.

In conclusion, while community organizations, labor organizations, training intermediaries, and the public workforce system have made significant progress in recent decades to expand access to construction trades, more must be done to organize black workers and expand the scope of high-quality apprenticeship programs and increase access and pay for historically disadvantaged black communities.


No comments
You need to sign in to comment

Related Articles