It Is Time to End the Systemic Racism in Illinois Skilled Trades

CBUC calls for federal, state and local hearings on the lockout of black workers from construction jobs and contracts

 

CHICAGO – Today, Eddie Read, chairman of Chicago Black United Communities, founded in 1980 by the late activist and journalist Lutrell “Lu” Palmer, released the following statement regarding recent findings that showed that for more than two decades the state’s predominant trade unions have systematically excluded Black tradesmen and workers from the construction industry by denying these men and women access to apprenticeship programs needed for certification and licensing. 

 

“For more than 40 years Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC) has served as an advocate for the empowerment of Black people. Currently we are fighting to eradicate the systematic racism against Black workers and Black contractors not just in the Chicagoland but across the state of Illinois. Combined with the ravages of a pandemic that has sent countless Americans to the unemployment lines, a lack of access to jobs in the building trades and construction industry exacerbates the disparate impact on Black unemployment.

 

“CBUC has obtained information documenting discrimination in the construction skilled trades apprenticeship programs during the following years 1999 to 2018. During this period, there were at least five skilled trades apprentice programs that had 100 percent white participants from between 1999 to 2018 and zero Black participation. Additionally,15 apprentice programs had a minimum of 80 percent white participants. Another thirteen programs had 70 percent to 79 percent white participants. 

 

“Therefore Chicago Black United Communities have zero confidence in the ability, commitment or desire of the Skilled Trades Construction industry. Ensuring that Black Individuals will get a fair and equitable opportunity to participate in any aspect of the skilled trades such as apprentice, journeymen, nor any other employment categories.

 

“The City Of Chicago alone is projected to create a $40 billion to $60 billion construction boom in the next two years. That means that very few African Americans will be able to obtain jobs in the unions that awarded contracts in these new developments. 

 

Former Assistant Labor Secretary Arthur Fletcher warned the public decades ago, “On the supply side, most of the construction industry is organized by the 19 craft unions which have always represented the workers in the industry. These unions seek exclusive territorial jurisdiction,” Fletcher said. “They seek to control the access to all the jobs in a certain craft in a certain geographical area. If they control these jobs, they can allocate them to their members and others, thus assuring at least some union members of regular employment, in the face of fluctuating demand for labor. In addition, by controlling the number of people who come into the trades, they are able to keep the supply of skilled workers at a level which is low enough so that they have strong bargaining power in setting wages with management. The results of this effort, carried out over the years, is that the wage rates in the construction industry are higher than any other industry.”

 

In short, we know that white-dominated unions have systematically kept Black workers out of the construction industry, which is evident in Chicago when we see who are employed on various projects. 

 

Therefore we are in need of a serious overhaul of the current policies, rules, ordinances and  statutory requirements to be redressed. We are also calling on Governor J.B. Pritzker, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago City Council, the IL General Assembly and our federal legislators to convene emergency hearings to discuss who this injustice has been allowed to proliferate; and what policies can be implemented now to ensure Blacks are no longer locked out of construction jobs in Illinois.

 

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