Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry C. Alford
The city of Pittsburgh is one of the most progressive cities in the United States. The development of the city over the last few decades is most impressive. It has gone from a dirty, steel plant invested town where the smog would overtake the sunshine by 3:00 p.m. every day, to a bustling city with fresh air and one of the most impressive skylines in the nation. Most people who go to Pittsburgh for the first time come back with positive remarks about the city built where the three rivers meet (Allegany and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River).
The above is why I am in a state of mild shock, or better yet, disappointment. We spend a lot time fighting one of the biggest producers of discrimination. That is the weapon used by white, suburban organizations that prey on the riches of a city. Construction, i.e. infrastructure, is a major component of capital activity in a major city. New buildings and roads are a sign of prosperity – that’s new construction. Older buildings and roads get updated, repaired, or demolished – that is still new construction. Construction is a job producer and will be here forever which is why it is so important that it provides equity and fairness for employment opportunities.
There is no bigger threat to hiring equity and fairness than monopolistic activity. In construction, Project Labor Agreements are antitheses of equity and fairness. Basically, Project Labor Agreements are monopolies. When a construction project falls under a PLA, it limits competition for bids to only union-based companies. Nonunion contractors are forbidden from the potential work unless they abide by union rules and costs. Ninety-eight percent of Black owned construction companies are non-union. Unions defy entrepreneurship within the construction arena. Unions prefer to deal with a few very big corporations as opposed to an open market full of competition and workers’ liberty. They turn a worksite into a “closed shop.” The rules are rigid and expensive, too expensive for an “open shop” to afford. Set wages and restricted training is anti-capitalistic. If a construction worksite is union only it will be void of true diversity concerning race and gender.
Some might say that construction unions in the United States aren’t as restrictive as those in Europe. They would be right but that doesn’t make ours free and open to a given right to work. Frankly, union only construction sites defy the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Titles 6 and 7). When a city chooses to have a project labor agreement, they are opening the doors of discrimination. Again, unions prefer to deal with large construction companies rather than a small business that can’t afford wasteful or excessive costs in doing business via exaggerated payrolls and benefits.
How can they get away with this? Simply, they categorized the trades or crafts. Two of the lowest paid levels are that of cement workers and general laborers. Unions will fill the worker slots in these two categories with Blacks, Hispanics, and females. The higher the pay scale for a craft such as electrical workers or steel workers the fewer minorities or females will be found. Thus, if a worksite loads up on Blacks, Hispanics and women in the cement and the general laborer areas while reserving the fewer higher paying slots the discrimination can be hidden. For example, if a worksite has 50 slots for cement workers and general laborers there could be 40 minorities working these slots. For the other 150 slots which are higher paying they may have no minorities working. If you look at the total demographics, it would show 20% minority participation (40 out of 200) even though the higher paying trades have no representation of minorities at all. Usually, the higher paying slots show less than 2% minority participation.
The reality in all our big cities that do not have open shops or “right to work shops” is usually much worse than above. Big cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Philadelphia and now Pittsburgh show minority participation in single digits for the higher paying crafts. So, when the Mayor of Pittsburgh touts a 12% minority hiring goal for all construction work under its new Project Labor Agreement, it means nothing for the Black, Hispanic or female electrical workers, steel erectors, heavy equipment operators, etc. They have a “license to steal” the jobs and opportunities from minorities. It’s worse than that! To start with, the city has a 24% Black population. They are setting a goal that “dumbs” down the true demographics and opportunities per craft.
What happens when a city, like Pittsburgh, decides to go this way? There will be demonstrations, lawsuits, and discontent. “It” is really going to hit the fan when the local citizens see white construction workers coming into their city to do construction work that their own citizens should be doing. The high paying union jobs are reserved for white males, living in the suburbs or rural areas who come into town to work the high paying construction un- ion jobs with exclusivity. They don’t even stop to fill up their gas tanks within the city. They come in; work the high paying construction jobs; head on back to suburbia with that good paying construction money.
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce® Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: [email protected].