We Shall Overcome          ~         Foundation

We Shall Overcome Foundation




               (by Isaias Gamboa)

February, 13, 2022


As some of you may know, I have been involved in the real estate and construction industries for 30 years. While in Los Angeles, In 2012 I founded the "Brother and Sisterhood of Minority Tradesmen", and in Cincinnati, the "Cincinnati Construction Academy", and Mr. G's Home-Care Bootcamp. My objective in establishing these organization, was to advocate for African American and minority construction workers, who have been discriminated against in one way or another, by the dis-proportionally White construction industry. 

As of the summer of 2021, thanks to a US Department of Labor-funded grant, I now actively work to advocate for, recruit, train, and place African-American men and women into high-paying, construction-industry registered apprenticeship jobs. As this is a US Taxpayer-funded position, I feel it my duty to document and report something extremely troubling.In the five-county Southwest Ohio region I have focused on; Hamilton, Claremont, Warren and Butler, my efforts to place qualified African-American men and women into registered apprenticeships, have been repeatedly thwarted by a widespread system of overt and systemic racism, and bias at the hands of the powerful construction industry. 

Over the past 18 months, I’ve seen large union and non-union construction companies with DOL registered apprenticeships programs, demonstrate systemic blatant racism and biases, and going to extraordinary lengths to exclude Blacks from gaining and sustaining registered apprentice positions. 


The way in which this systemic racism manifests itself, has been practiced with impunity for so long by the construction industry, that these companies hardly even attempt to hide it. I’ve personally witnessed interviews, where highly qualified black applicants were told by the interviewer, they were not likely pass the application test. I've seen tests designed and administered to ensure failure, and applicants subjected to 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 worked at Ford Motor Co. where he had been for three years. He was prepped for the interview by a retired journeyman electrician, and I trained him myself in safety, hand tools, power tools and basic carpentry. He applied to the local IBEW, (not long before President Biden’s visit), and aced his written exam. A few weeks later, however, 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 only a working electrical apprentice would know. He was then 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.


And then 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 jobsite, they’re smugly told by an administrative gatekeeper, or job-site foreman that the company policy requires Union referral or membership before hiring. 


Of course, all construction jobs are not registered apprenticeships. Many are for seasonal laborers that start at lower wages and are much more vulnerable to sudden lay-offs, based on the company's economic needs. 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; 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. 


And then there’s the five-ton elephant in the room. Black Union apprentices aspire to become Black Union journeyman, and as Union members they have voting power. With this power, they can run for, and vote for, more diverse Union leadership, which can result in equitable, industry-wide diversity in hiring. Through my observations and many years of personal experience, this is power that the disproportionately White construction industry has had for a long time, and is 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, and discriminatory testing.  

The hiring practices employed by the construction industry at large, are clearly unconstitutional, racist, and exclusionary systems that are hard-wired into the disproportionally White construction industry in Southwest Ohio, and I suspect, the entire USA. 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