Bay Area Black Builders Push Back on Project Labor Agreements

0 December 1, 2009  State & Local Construction

Joseph Debro is president of a new organization, Bay Area Black Builders, composed of black construction workers and contractors fighting together for economic justice.  Mr. Debro writes about how building trades unions in his community, through project labor agreements (PLAs), serve as a barrier between black contractors and prosperity (“Jobs Now!” 12/28).

The building trades unions have found a more effective way to discriminate. They prevent Black contractors who finally get a contract from making any money. Under the PLA (project labor agreement), if the small Black contractor does not sign a union agreement, he must still pay the union out of his contract. If he does sign an agreement, the union sends him the worst craftsmen at the hall. This makes it impossible to profit on a contract. The internal racism is overpowering. This is especially true of the electrical unions, Locals 509 and 6.

Here is Mr. Debro’s plan to create more employment opportunities for black workers and help grow small businesses in the Bay Area community.

Black contractors have decided they are not going to take this any more. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have organized a more aggressive contractors association, Bay Area Black Builders. This association will include workers as well as contractors. Membership requires a recommendation.

We plan to aggressively pursue jobs for the Black community. We plan to oppose the pre-apprenticeship programs sponsored by the trade unions. We plan to institute an on-the-job training program for young Black and Brown people. We oppose project labor agreements. We plan to bring a class action suit against all such contracts made by public bodies. We plan to establish our own bonding company as we did once before.

Mr. Debro’s experience with PLAs in his community is not uncommon. On August 6, 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee held a hearing on project labor agreements and their negative impact on women and minority owned businesses.  Access testimony from The Administration’s Policy of Discrimination: Project Labor Agreement’s Negative Impact on Women- and Minority-Owned Small Businesses here.

Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), is also a vocal critic of PLAs.

“It is the policy of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc. to oppose Project Labor Agreements. This opposition is based on the fact that African American workers are significantly underrepresented in all crafts of construction union shops. This problem has been persistent during the past decades and there appears to be no type of improvement coming within the next ten years.

There have been rouses of diversity pre-apprenticeship training programs during the past twenty years but no increase in diversity at the apprenticeship to journeymen levels. The higher incidence of union labor in the construction industry, the lower African American employment will be realized. This is constant throughout the nation.

Also, and equally important, the higher use of union shops brings a correlated decrease in the amount of Black owned businesses being involved on a worksite.”

– NBCC Policy Statement on Project Labor Agreements

Check out Mr. Alford’s opinions on PLAs here.

Learn what other groups are saying about PLAs here.

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