The following are questions and answers on how policies regarding the Oakland Army Base Project will impact African American employment.
Q: Why is the rate of African-American employment on the new Oakland Army Base project even an issue?
A: Historically, only small numbers of African-Americans have been employed on Oakland construction projects. City statistics indicate that only 5 percent of the journeymen hours worked on city-funded construction projects in recent years went to African-Americans, although African-Americans make up almost 30 percent of the Oakland population.
Q: What has the African-American community been doing to change that situation?
A: West Oakland, African-American, and other activist groups created a coalition called OaklandWORKS that has worked for two years to push for fair hiring policies without loopholes.
Q: Why should we hope that the employment percentages will change?
A: With community input, the City Council has passed some good policies. These include: creating a Jobs Center through which all Army Base jobs will pass; a policy requiring all contractors to report every week on who has worked in various jobs categories, listed by zip code, ethnicity, gender and other criteria; and penalties for failing to follow city local hiring policies.
Q: Does this mean the problem is solved and we can relax?
A: No. Here are some things the community needs to push, in my opinion: Journeymen hours. While apprentices might be hired, there are no specific provisions in the Army Base agreement for fairness in the hiring of journey-people. These are the workers who have become skilled and made that particular trade into their career.
Funding of the Jobs Center. The contractor needs to pay for this.
Vigilance in Enforcement. Oakland sometimes acts like developers are doing us a favor, even when they are receiving city money to build their projects. City policy requires a fine of one and a half times the hourly rate for jobs on which the contractors fail to follow the city jobs policy. The community needs to stay on top of enforcement of this jobs policy, so that Oaklanders are able to work.
When the Jobs Center opens, those who wish to work will need to check out the exact qualifications for each job category, so that they are ready with all the needed documents and training when the jobs become available.
Q: What can we do immediately?
A: OaklandWORKS is hosting a roundtable discussion on Army Base jobs Dec. 8. Check back in next week’s Oakland Post to find out location and time.
Kitty Kelly Epstein is an educator and author of the 2012 book” Organizing to Change a City,” which discusses these issues in greater detail.