PSLabor News

PSLabor News

To the editor: Enough is enough. Richard Berman's recent piece on behalf of the Center for Union Facts, "#CountMeOut: Construction unions leave minority workers behind," can best be categorized as Fake Facts and ancient history. The Building Trades Employers' Association (BTEA) challenges you to come to New York City, perhaps in a forum hosted by Crain's, to compare the facts about whether the union or non-union construction industry provides minority workers with the best opportunity for a middle-class living. The BTEA will even pay the transportation costs for you to come and debate this issue. Berman claims that "black unionized construction workers in New York City earn on average $7.69 less per hour than their white counterparts with white unionized workers earning an average of $35.28 per hour while black workers make $27.32—a 23% pay gap." Also, "minorities often had lower-paying apprenticeships." Their "study" continues their pattern of using Steve Bannon-type strategies and being willing to say anything in zealous pursuit of an agenda to divide this industry along racial and ethnic lines. Sound familiar? Here are the real facts about minority workers' wages and opportunities in the New York City building trade unions. First, every union worker gets paid the same hourly rate of pay irrespective of race, gender or sexual preference. The wage rates paid to all union workers are spelled out very specifically and clearly in the collective bargaining agreements between the individual trade contractors and the union they negotiate these agreements with. It is impossible to violate these rates as is alleged without incurring serious legal consequences to the contractor from government compliance agencies and/or the courts. A study done by the Economic Policy Institute shows that "Black union construction workers earn 36.1% more than black nonunion construction workers. Because black workers have better wages and a greater employment share in the union construction sector in New York City, it greatly boosts overall annual wages to the black community from construction by 83% or $152 million each year." Even where it has experienced a loss of market share, the residential market, the non-union workforce in that market sector has the lowest representation of black workers—11%. Apprentices get paid a lower rate irrespective of race, gender or sexual preference because they are entry level jobs in the industry. These rates are all outlined in the collective bargaining agreement of each individual union trade agreement and are on file at the NYC Comptroller's office. Apprentices attend class either on Saturdays or at night for a three- to five-year period before they can graduate to a higher paying journeyperson job title. Discrimination is a sad part of the past history of some building trade unions. But it is very different today and the proof can be seen in the real numbers. Of the 8,500 active union apprentices today, over 65% are African-American, Latino or women, with 72% being New York City residents. The union construction industry has institutionalized its commitment to increasing labor diversity through labor-management non-profit organizations. Construction Skills has partnered with all 17 New York City Vocational High Schools and upon graduation with a 75% attendance record and grade point average, and completion of a 6-week pre-apprentice "boot camp," students go to the top of the apprenticeship applicant list ahead of thousands of other applicants. They are then referred for placement in the trade apprenticeship program of their choice. The New York State Department of Labor has authorized by waiver this approach for organizations to assist in diversifying the trade unions. The results speak for themselves: over 2000 NYC graduates have been placed in apprenticeship programs since 2000, with 900 advancing their careers to journeyperson status. This includes Nycha resident adults and the Sandy Build It Back program which have placed over 335 New York City residents through this program. The Helmets to Hardhats program has placed 900 veterans returning from active duty—55% of which are minority and women, and include Nycha residents—into apprenticeship programs and journeyperson jobs. Non-Traditional Employment for Women has placed 1,500 women—82% of them women of color—into union apprenticeship programs. All apprentice training programs are financed with BTEA contractors' private money at an estimated cost of $35,000 per apprentice per year. I ask the Center for Union Facts: what are the non-union contractors who are funding your organization doing about boosting minority and women in construction? I suspect not much at best and hiding behind a curtain of fake numbers at worst. It may be possible to get away with making up facts in Washington, D.C. these days, but New Yorkers are much smarter than that. We make decisions based on real facts—not fake facts. I hope to see Mr. Berman and others from the Center for Union Facts soon in New York to discuss the real facts about women & minority employment in the construction industry.   Louis J. Coletti is the President and CEO of the Building Trades Employers' Association. The Building Trades Employers' Association (BTEA) is the largest contractor association in New York City, representing 26 Construction Manager, General Contractor, Subcontractor and Specialty Trade contractor associations with over 1,000 individual contractor members. Read Story
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