We Shall Overcome          ~         Foundation

     EDITORIAL AND OPINION

THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY'S CROCODILE TEARS 

DURING A TIME OF STAGGERING LABOR SHORTAGES, RAMPANT RACISM IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY KEEPS PRIZED APPRENTICESHIP POSITIONS OUT OF OF REACH FOR QUALIFIED AFRICAN-AMERICANS.


               (by Isaias Gamboa)



February, 13, 2022

 

As a real estate broker and investor, carpenter, construction trainer and youth advocate; I've worked in and with the construction-industry for more than 30 years. In all that time, I've rarely spoken of the the countless injustices, biases, indignities and offenses I've experienced and or witnessed. I wanted to believe that these acts of injustice were random, and did not reflect the industry as a whole. I wanted to believe that the things I'd experienced, were isolated incidents, and give repeat offenders the benefit of the doubt. I know now that I was mistaken. 


What I'd hoped was nothing more than a few racists in hard hats with chips on their shoulders; over 30 years, turned out to be a deeply-entrenched, industry-wide culture of racism and discrimination fighting to maintain generational wealth, institutional power, and "cultural" relevance.   


In 2012, while living and working in Los Angeles, California, the blatant institutional racism I experienced throughout the construction and real estate industries motivated me to establish the "Brother and Sisterhood of Minority Tradesmen". And after relocating to Cincinnati in 2014, the "Cincinnati Construction Academy", and Mr. G's Home-Care Bootcamp. My objective in establishing these three organizations was to find employment and advocate for African Americans and minorities, who have been exploited and discriminated against on a massive scale by the disproportionallyWhite  construction industry. 


In the summer of 2020, through a U.S. Department of Labor-funded grant, I was hired to vigorously advocate for, recruit, train, and place, African American men and women into construction-industry registered apprenticeship jobs. As this is a taxpayer-funded position, I feel a duty to document and report the troubling discoveries I have encountered.


In the five-county Southwest-Ohio region I have focused on; Hamilton, Claremont, Warren and Butler counties, I've found my efforts to place qualified African-American men and women into registered apprenticeships, consistently thwarted and undermined by the same system of systemic racism and bias I experienced in Los Angeles over 30 years. 


Over the past 18 months, I’ve seen large well-established and respected union and non-union construction companies with DOL registered apprenticeships programs, go to extraordinary lengths to exclude Blacks from gaining and sustaining registered apprentice positions in this lucrative industry. Somehow, these very successful companies still manage to land huge local and state contracts, while unapologetically demonstrating blatant racism and biases in their recruiting and employment practices.



The way in which this systemic racism manifests itself has been practiced with impunity for so long by the construction industry, that these companies now hardly even attempt to hide it. I’ve personally witnessed interviews, where highly qualified black applicants were told by the interviewer, that they were not likely pass the application test. I've seen tests designed and administered to ensure failure, and applicants subjected to all White panel interviews that produce a subjective interview score, and effectively disregard the applicants passing test scores. 


In one example, I had a bright, and very qualified applicant, who aspired to be an electrician. He was very reliable and had worked at the Ford Motor Co. for three years. In addition to these qualifications, he was prepped for the exam and interview at the local IBEW electricians union, by a retired journeyman electrician. I trained him myself in safety, hand tools, power tools and basic carpentry. He arrived at the local IBEW, (not long before President Biden’s visit), and aced his written exam. A few weeks later he was asked to sit before a panel of six, White board members, where he was subjected to a subjective Q&A, and asked questions that only a working electrical apprentice would know. He was subsequently denied entry into the union, told all the apprenticeships were taken for the year, and told to try back in six months. When asked why it is he was not admitted to the union, they couldn't (or wouldn't) answer. Yet still, the IBEW claims to have a labor shortage: Here's quote from the January 2022 IBEW Newsletter:


"The IBEW and other trades have dealt with a skilled worker shortage for many years, a situation that may be exacerbated by the [Infrastructure] bill’s passage. The demand for skilled workers will be at its highest point ever."


(see page 5) 

http://www.ibew.org/articles/22ElectricalWorker/EW2201/IBEW%20EW%20V16%20N01.pdf


 

And then of course, there’s the infamous “Catch-22”, where qualified and experienced Black applicants that go directly to the union to apply, are told they must first find a contractor to hire them. However, once they contact a prospective DOL registered apprenticeship contractor, or show up on a job site, they’re smugly told by an administrative gatekeeper, or job-site foreman that the company policy requires Union membership before hiring. You get the picture.

 

Of course, all construction companies are not guilty of discriminatory hiring practices. I have found some exceptional organizations that are more than willing to hire qualified applicants, regardless of race and ironically, because of diversity requirements, even because of their race.  


And all construction jobs are not registered apprenticeships. Many are for seasonal unskilled and seasonal laborers that start at lower wages, and are much more vulnerable to sudden lay offs based on the company's business needs and circumstances. Registered apprenticeships, however, come with a contract for higher wages with increased pay at designated training milestone. They also come with a sustained contractual commitment by the employer to on-the-job, and classroom training, than that of a typical laborer position. For this reason, registered apprenticeships are considered the "sacred cows" of the industry. 


It’s certainly true that the construction industry is suffering from a severe labor shortage, but I believe this is a self-inflicted wound. There are plenty of hard-working, reliable, qualified, men and women eager to start a rewarding, long-term career in the construction industry as registered apprentices. The apparent problem for the industry seems to be that, not enough of them are White. 


FOLLOW THE POWER

 

Now, here’s the five-ton elephant in the room. Black Union apprentices aspire to become Black Union journeyman, and as Union members they are not only leaders, they have voting power. With this power they can run for, and vote for more diverse Union leadership, which in turn can result in equitable, industry-wide diversity in hiring. This is the power that disproportionally White construction industry at-large, has had for a very long time and is now fighting--against its own self-interests--to keep. Their weapons of choice are; discriminatory hiring practices, “catch 22’s”, biased gatekeepers, stonewalling, implicit and explicit racism, intimidation, discriminatory testing, and old fashioned job site bigotry.  


The racist and heavily biased employment culture, systems and methods practiced by the the US construction industr, are illegal, and unconstitutional constructs that have been hard-wired into it from the board-room, down to the job-site, to ensure it will maintain its disproportionally White demographic makeup, for many generations to come. And although so-called, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officers, are now all the rage, they are little more that the construction industry's latest attempt to deflect attention and criticism away from its unlawful business practices.  


I will continue to report and document these experiences, and to speak for those whose voice is not heard. I will not give offenders a safe place to hide. Sunlight is still the best disinfectant. Stay tuned.


We Shall Overcome.


Isaias Gamboa









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