Lining up for Jim Crow

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by Calvin K. Clinton Sr.

It is a historical and present day fact, that White led construction craft unions in Pittsburgh either don’t want Blacks in their unions or barely tolerate having a token few.

Since 1968 when Mr. Nate Smith and others pressed this city and its unions to stop the discriminatory hiring practices in construction, the problem has persisted until this day. At that time, with taxpayer money, this city was building the Civic Arena, Three Rivers Stadium and the United States Steel building. That was called Renaissance 1.

Since that time, with taxpayer money, this city has built PNC Park for the Pirates, Heinz Field for the Steelers, and the expansion of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which was the bulk of what was called, Renaissance 2. None of which had any appreciable economic impact on the Black community despite having spent more than a billion dollars of public funds, few Blacks belonged to the skill craft unions. Since then, the city with taxpayer money again, helped build the Console Energy Center for the Penguins, the $321 million dollar arena was built with less than 2 percent Black labor. A Community Benefits Agreement was put in place but the issue of construction jobs was left off the table to avoid “problems” with the White led, skill craft unions of Pittsburgh.

Knowing that increasing criticism was bound to come from the Black community and fair-minded Whites, when the economic truths came out, the unions resorted to an age old method to keep their ranks relatively White and obscure the truth of their persistent discrimination against Blacks, “pre-apprenticeship”. They offered it during the Nate Smith era and they offered it to our union as a bribe for over $1 million during the Renaissance 2 projects.

As we are a union with certified union training credentials, we refused to accept the money and be a party to the “Jim Crow” training deception of the Black community. The impression that is promoted by these type programs is that they are a gateway to full union apprenticeship, where in reality, only 1 percent of pre-apprentices are brought into the White led unions for membership.

It is a cruel hoax played by these unions and their accomplice practitioners in the Black community and yes, these unions and other organizations have put a lot of money out there for organizations to be a coconspirator in the hoax. Sadly a lot of Black organizations are lining up to provide this “Jim Crow” training. They deceive the students into thinking they have a real shot of having a construction career and they deceive the public that progress is being made against discrimination in the construction industry of Pittsburgh. By their visual presence on construction sites, most people assume these workers are in a career mode, when in fact, it’s usually that project and only that project they are to work on. No certified training, no career track, and no viable future in construction. Ask any Jim Crow training provider if they can certify you as a journey worker even if you worked through them for 20 years, the answer will be no!

The Department of Labor calls it “one and done”. It is said, if you tell a lie long enough, if accepted, it becomes the truth. These are some of the lies that have been advanced to the Black community; “we can’t find qualified candidates” or “they don’t have driver’s licenses”, it is an evil ruse for the truth; the reality is, except for a token few, we don’t want you!

We at the African American Workers Union see things differently.

(Calvin K. Clinton Sr. is president of the African American Workers Union.)

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