Black workers seek access to federal infrastructure jobs

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Wave Staff Report

LOS ANGELES — A coalition of national and local labor groups, including the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, gathered last week for a town hall at Los Angeles Civic Center’s Grand Park to call on the Biden-Harris administration to give Black workers access to jobs created by all U.S. infrastructure investment plans, including a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill expected to be passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The Build Back Better For All Workers meeting demanded affirmative administrative relief that sets a clear and relevant standard for participation levels of Black workers and other underrepresented workers on federally funded and assisted projects.

By creating this relief, workers who have historically faced the highest rates of chronic unemployment and underemployment due to racism and discrimination, will have fair participation in the nation’s infrastructure investments and employment opportunities.

Coalition leaders urged the Biden-Harris administration to update the Equal Employment Opportunity Executive Order 11246 by expanding access to Black workers and other workers facing employment discrimination to ensure that any infrastructure legislative package gives employment opportunities to the communities that have been denied access to living wage jobs due to systemic racism.

Coalition leaders also appealed for the administrative action to create affirmative administrative relief to remove the threat of deportation and grant work authorization for workers who have reported workplace abuses. The town hall event highlighted how Build Back Better infrastructure projects risk leaving behind millions of workers who face massive unemployment, discrimination and retaliation — unless the current administration takes action.

“We will not be pitted against each other, but rather come together for equity to say we need bold action from the Biden-Harris administration,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, co-chair of the Southern California Black Worker Hub for Regional Organizing. “Workers in our community represent those who risked their lives last November to usher in change. We know this administration doesn’t have to wait for Congress. They can show the same courage and provide administrative relief now.”

More than 250 people attended the meeting, which also was live streamed and posted on Facebook. Civic leaders who attended the town hall to express their support of the coalition’s efforts to help Black workers included Greg Good, president of the city of Los Angeles Department of Public Works; Jacqueline Hamilton, district director for U.S. Rep. Karen Bass; and Capri Maddox, director of the city of Los Angeles’ Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department.

U.S. Rep. Judy Chu virtually participated in the event to voice her support for Build Back Better For All Workers.

Several Black and immigrant workers also attended the town hall to talk about their personal experiences with racism, job loss and intimidation in the workplace.

“As a Black worker, I have always struggled to find stable employment,” said Devon Williams, one of the workers who shared his story during the town hall. “For the jobs I’ve had, I faced prejudice in the workplace so I’m calling on the Biden-Harris administration to give Black workers like me access to jobs created by all U.S. infrastructure plans. By doing so, this will help our Black citizens take better care of our families and communities.”

Black workers represent 11% of all new construction apprentices and 13% of the U.S.’s workforce. But only 6% of U.S. construction workers are African American.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for Black workers in California was the highest of any group at 13.5%, while the overall California unemployment rate was 10.6%, despite Black people representing 6% of the state’s population.

The Build Back Better For All town hall was held to address why the current administration and some elected officials must act to ensure that all communities have job access and workplace protections to rebuild this nation.

Members of the Build Back Better For All campaign came together in 2021 with a shared goal to advance all workers’ rights by centering the needs of Black and immigrant workers and highlighting specific actions President Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh can take to improve working conditions and accessibility to good union jobs.

Among the organizations taking part in the campaign are the National Black Worker Center Project, Southern California Black Worker Hub for Regional Organizing, Teamsters Local 396, National Domestic Workers Alliance, SEIU, Jobs with Justice, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation (SMART) Local 105, Unemployed Workers United, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Domestic Workers of America – AFSCME Local 3930.

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