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Boston, Mass- It is not an unknown fact that the construction industry houses high-paying jobs which don’t necessarily always require a high level of education. Most have a low entry barrier and offer superior training, providing individuals with the dignity that comes from satisfactory careers. What many turn a blind eye to however, is the racism infiltrated among unions and leadership positions within the sector of construction. We dove into an article written by Travis Watson named “Union Construction’s Racial Equity and Inclusion Charade”
Travis Watson’s published background states: “Travis Watson is the creator of ADOSConstruction.org and chair of the Boston Employment Commission (BEC). Appointed by former Boston mayor and current US Department of Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, the BEC oversees the Boston Residents Jobs Policy, which sets employment standards on city-assisted construction projects.”
As more minorities continue to express and emphasize the blatant disrespect and mistreatment they have encountered among the workplace, documented examples are now being unraveled to unveil the tremendous widespread racism that unfortunately occurs in professional settings.
For a significant portion of Black individuals, the process of joining a construction union becomes needlessly tedious. With so many implemented racial barriers, it almost appears more logical to give up or not even try at all. When techniques designed to dispel Black applicants fail, it is standard for white union members to manifest other blockades for entry such as a racially biased entrance exam or derogatory name-calling engagement.
A method well known to be utilized by white union construction workers is “The Catch 22”. This trap rejects prospective Black employees from joining a union unless they fall under certain criteria. In order to receive admittance into a construction union, Black individuals need to have had a previous job in addition to having already been in a union before getting said construction job. In summary, one has to be in a union to get a job but one needs a job first to get into a union.
Stonewalling is the act of intentionally refusing communication and ignoring others. This strategy has been heavily employed against Black workers despite them having immaculate skills, training, and experience.
Several construction unions embody the term “biased gatekeepers”. Unions sit unemployed members “on the bench” as they wait for dispatchers to find them work. Considering that dispatchers play a crucial role in obtaining job access and union entry, refusing to provide Black employees with work keeps unions racially white. Most employers, by union policy, can only hire workers referred to by the union dispatchers. Therefore, applying directly to employers has proved unsuccessful.
At some construction unions, applicants are required to pass a test for entry. To keep membership as white as possible, local unions have been infamous for passing white applicants regardless of how they have scored and failing nearly every Black candidate. The lack of equal access to unions deprives Black individuals from apprenticeship, mentorship, and networking opportunities.
Explicit racism such as racist language and placing Black individuals in dangerous situations has been widely reported. Places such as Toronto, Las Vegas, and Portland, Oregon have noted incidents of nooses being left by workers at construction sites in 2020.
A few unions even go to great lengths to suppress Black workers from participating in union elections. Through exclusionary practices, construction unions regulate the number of Black voters taking part in elections and ensure that Black representation among union votes will not be adequate enough to dismantle the racist union policies. This therefore restricts Black individuals into being elected in senior leadership positions.
Although many companies and industries promote diversity, the staple white way tactic has been programmed to intentionally fail Black employees. Construction unions in the Boston area rarely attempt to diversify their member circle and those that do rely on diversity initiatives such as Building Pathways and Build a Life which are organized and run by white people. David Lopes, a construction worker in Boston, has stated that programs like these explicitly teach young Black children that unions are the only pathway towards sustainable salaries and job stability. Lopes goes on to further claim that a one-sided version of the industry is presented and the reality of non-union construction providing more opportunities for Black businesses and employees goes unmentioned. It is worth incorporating that nearly 95% of Black owned construction companies in Boston are not associated with any unions.These programs furthermore hold little to no connection with Boston’s Black community causing them to fail in the very areas the groups are claiming to help them prosper in.
The minimum effort conducted for diversifying construction unions revokes Black individuals’ ability to reach senior leadership positions all while unions testify ignorance and claim that they do not know the reason for the absence of minorities in such roles.
In Boston, the median net worth of Black people is $8 as opposed to the $248K for white people. Additionally, roughly 0.4% of city sponsored construction contracts have been awarded to Black owned businesses. Between 2014 and 2019, the city contracted $986 million in construction with only $3.8 million of that budget going to Black owned companies.
With new light being shed on construction unions that are formulated on structural racism, a dent in the racial wealth gap can be made possible. Those committed to social and economic justice will continue to rally for the nation’s destruction of prevailing inequality.