Black workers expose Whites only union construction apprenticeships in Illinois

Oct 1 '20 | By Ray

Black labor activist have unveiled appalling diversity statistics in a new report that turns a spotlight on systemic racism within Illinois construction trade unions.  Congressman Danny Davis office along with the chairman of Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC), Eddie Read, are bringing to the public’s attention data that shows black workers statewide are being systematically locked out of unionized construction trade professions. The loss of these high-paying skilled union jobs is costing black workers billions of dollars and earned wages and union benefits.

The CBUC has reported documents showing extreme racial discrimination in 62 Illinois trade unions apprenticeship programs for the years 1999 to 2018, showing that five union trade programs including. asphalt paving machine operator, rough carpenter, gas utility worker, stained-glass glazier and industrial coating painter, are completely segregated for the benefit of white workers only, 100% of the time.

“Additionally, 15 apprentice programs had a minimum of 80 percent white participants. Another 13 programs had 70 percent to 79 percent white participants,” CBUC Chairman Read said in a statement.

Others union apprenticeship programs like boilermaker, electric meter installer, electrician, elevator constructor, glazier, heating and air-conditioning installer, HVAC, line installer, maintenance mechanic, millwright, operating engineer, pipe fitter, plumber, sheet metal worker, structural steel worker and welder include less than 20% black apprentice.

This endeavor to expose the Illinois construction labor unions pattern of widespread racial discrimination in nothing new for ‘Chicago Black United Communities’ (CBUC), a grassroots organization that unites youth and adults across Chicago. Along with their leadership, CBUC has fought for decades to address the horrors of being black in the construction industry for decades. Usually their direct actions include physically ‘shutting down’ construction sites.

“Currently we are fighting to eradicate the systematic racism against Black workers and Black contractors, not just in Chicagoland but across the state of Illinois,” Read said.

“Combined with the ravages of a pandemic that has sent countless Americans to the unemployment lines, a lack of access to jobs in the building trades and construction industry exacerbate the disparate impact on Black unemployment.”

“The same systematic approach that excluded Black workers from the building trades 50 years ago is even more prevalent today,” says Read. “Therefore, Chicago Black United Communities has zero confidence in the ability, commitment or desire of the Skilled Trades Construction industry,” he added.

Congressman Danny Davis, who joined with CBUC in condemning the above mentioned union apprenticeship programs, is calling for a renewed push of Black union workers in hopes that the nationwide reckoning with systematic racism over the summer can lead to increased Black union membership.

“I couldn’t believe that in the year 2020, after all the marching, all the demonstrations, there are still unions that have frozen out African Americans. I had to get a magnifying glass to make sure I was seeing these numbers right,” Davis said.

“We’re going to have to do something about it. Don’t tell us there is no room at the inn, because if there’s no room, then we just have to kick the door down and come on in anyway. I’m tired of seeing young men on my block standing around with nothing to do, because they can’t get into these trade unions.”

Danny Davis who has represented the Illinois's 7th congressional district since 1996, and who ran on a progressive Democratic platform popular in the district, is pro-choice and supported gay rights, single-payer health care, and some federal support for child nutrition and care, has yet to proposal any federal bill to directly transform union apprenticeships, or even challenge the labor unions strangle hold on state sponsored training programs. For all the tough talk, his pen has remained mostly idle on the subject.

Some of Chicago’s unemployed Black tradesmen, who are certified in skill trades but hit brick walls in seeking union work, gathered this past Labor Day to protest how they have been systematically blocked from jobs leading to living-wage careers as Journeymen tradespeople.

“I’m just disgusted, angered that we’re still fighting for something we were fighting for in the ’90s, when my mother was alive,” said Guana Stamps, of Humboldt Park, whose three sons are seeking pathways to becoming electricians or plumbers.

Stamps is daughter of the late legendary activist Marion Stamps,  and in July, she testified before the City Council, saying that eradicating racism in unions would create jobs and help solve Chicago violence. As Read out it “a gun won’t fit in a hand that’s got a hammer in it.”

CBUC is currently accepting testimony to build a case for a class action lawsuit in order to receive compensation for Black workers who have been denied jobs. CBUC  believes that many students who worked to gain access to the trades and a middle-class lifestyle were wrongfully denied that opportunity, which would be a breach of a city ordinance.

“An ordinance passed under the late Mayor Washington stipulated workers on public works jobs must be 50 percent city residents. We don’t believe that’s enforced,” Read said. “All the Black children who graduated from trade programs at high schools like Dunbar, CVS and Simeon between 1999 and 2018 believed they could enter the trades. These numbers clearly show they could not. So, we believe they too have standing in a class-action lawsuit.”

Though past wages have been lost due to the lack of opportunity for Black workers in the trades, future opportunity and income is still available. Right now, there are 13 major Chicago megaprojects in the works. Some are already under construction, while others are decades away from completion, such as a $6 billion plan to turn 55 acres of industrial riverfront real estate between Lincoln Park and Bucktown into a sprawling mixed-use campus. Another huge project is underway to redevelop Chicago’s historic Union Station and surrounding Amtrak properties. These mega projects are projected to create high demand for construction jobs in the city limits.

“The City Of Chicago alone is projected to create a $40 billion to $60 billion construction boom in the next two years,” CBUC said in a statement. “That means that very few African Americans will be able to obtain jobs in the unions that awarded contracts in these new developments,” due to the fact that black workers are behind the eight-ball as a result of rampant racially based union apprenticeship discrimination toward them and their families. 

If you believe that you have been racially targeted and denied a union construction trade apprenticeship opportunity in the State of Illinois, and would like to be added to CBUC class action lawsuit, contact CBUC @

Chicago Black United Communities

330 E. 37th St., Chicago, IL



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