It’s been almost 10 years since the outrage over sham minority and women-owned business contracts made the lack of Black participation on PNC Park, Heinz Field and David L. Lawrence Convention Center projects look even worse.
And while Black contractors such as architect Howard Graves and Larry Brinker have made minority business participation figures for the Consol Energy Arena look pretty good at around 23 percent overall, actual worksite participation is about 6 percent. On other union jobs around the city, it’s lower still.
That disconnect—and the search for possible solutions—was the focus of a Trade Union Mini-Summit held at Ebenezer Baptist Church Jan. 22. The event included a historical overview of Black participation in organized labor by University of Pittsburgh Professor Larry Glasco and a panel that included Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, CCAC Special Assistant for Diversity and Equity Rick Adams, NAACP Pittsburgh Branch Labor and Industry chair, and Rich Stanizzo, business manager for the Building Construction Trades Council.
For his part Onorato said the closing of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Connolly Trade School has left the region without a way to prepare teens to get into the trades.
“Kids are not prepared to take the trades’ (entrance) tests. We have CCAC teach prep classes on trade tests,” he said. “The unions are doing outreach, but these kids should already be able to pass the tests.”
Onorato proposed talks with PPS Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, as well as school executives from surrounding districts such as Wilkinsburg, Sto Rox and Clairton could cooperate on a regional trade center.
Ravenstahl said the city is stepping up its minority recruitment for public sector unions. He also noted KBK developing the Garfield Commons housing development with 44 percent minority participation.
Stanizzo, in very frank comments said the trade unions can’t fulfill the community’s expectations.
“We create about 800 jobs a year. You bring us 400-we can’t take them,” h said. “I’ve been coming to these things for years with everyone looking at us like we’re racists. I have 11,000 people in the whole county, UPMC has 49,000. Where are they? What about Duquesne Light lineman? That’s a good paying job that puts us to sleep.”
Apprentice carpenter Alexandra Gilmore wasn’t buying it. During the question and answer session, she said she’d been to seven job sites recently and was not called to work on any.
“I’m cheaper than a journeyman, why am I not working,” she asked. “I don’t see women on these job sites. If you got 100 men and two are Black, some of those 100 have to go. You got to let us in.”
Tim Stevens, who emceed the event said he didn’t care if a job was union or not as long as it paid well, but this particular summit focused on trade unions.”
Rick Adams, who told the audience about CCAC’s training programs in a number of areas, including welding and nursing, said Stanizzo had a valid point.
“There are a lot of other large employers and they offer quicker access than a four- or five year apprenticeship,” he said. “But in terms of physical access, many are not near the Black community, so there’s the transportation issue.”
Ron Sapp, business agent for the Operating Engineers said diversity isn’t an issue in his union because they do heavy highway construction and that is funded by state and federal dollars which required a certain level of minority employment.
“My shop steward on the Port Authority Tunnel project was a female operating engineer,” he said.
Stevens said he, Onorato and Ravenstahl will be planning another job summit to address increasing Black employment with the city and county’s other large employers. No date has been set.
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