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City Report Calls for End of ‘Historic, Racially Exclusive Membership’ of Construction Unions

Local data, submitted by unions in July 2020, indicate that “numerous disparities” under PLA’s currently exist in Oakland. However, data was submitted to the city by only 10 out of 28 of the building trades. Presumably these may have been the unions with better results.

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Women builders at Habitat for Humanity site. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity
Women builders at Habitat for Humanity site. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity

By Ken Epstein

The City of Oakland’s Department of Race & Equity recently issued a report calling for construction unions to abandon their historic, racially exclusive membership policies if they want the city to sign a contract guaranteeing the unions receive the lion’s-share of construction jobs on city-funded projects.

The City Council has been under behind-the-scenes pressure for several years from both building trades unions and their allied community groups to sign a binding contract, called a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), guaranteeing most jobs on city projects will go to union members.

Most building trades craft unions have failed to report numbers of Black and women members of their organizations. They also have not taken steps to eliminate the barriers to entry nor the sometimes-hostile work environments that keep African Americans and women out of union construction jobs.

So far, the 70-page racial equity analysis report, “Improving the Effectiveness of Project Agreements,” which examines current conditions and makes proposals for change, has been largely ignored by the media and most Oakland accountability activists.

The report was completed in in December 2020 by the Estolano Advisors and the San Francisco Foundation and submitted to the City Council by the Department of Race and Equity.

The San Francisco Foundation convened an advisory committee of representatives of public agencies, community-based organizations and the Alameda County Building Trades to examine strategies to diversify the construction workforce through PLA’s. Also supporting the study were Julian Gross of Renee Public Law Group, Junius Williams Consulting and others.

Local data, submitted by unions in July 2020, indicate that “numerous disparities” under PLA’s currently exist in Oakland. However, data was submitted to the city by only 10 out of 28 of the building trades. Presumably these may have been the unions with better results.

  • 98% of current members in the data sample are male;
  • 25% of building trades members lives in Alameda County (not necessarily in Oakland), and 75% do not;
  • Union members in the samples were 54% white, 35% Hispanic/Latino, 5% Black, 3% Asian, and 4% other or unknown.
  • Journey workers (the most skilled and highest paid) represent 79% of members, while 21% are apprentices;

These survey results confirm “that current data from the trade affiliates does not fully capture the landscape of the local construction workforce because trade affiliates do not collect data consistently and are not mandated to collect and report it,” according to the report.

The ongoing economic disparity in opportunities for women and African Americans in the building trades are national in scope and historically conditioned, according to a report to the City Council by Darlene Flynn, director of the Department of Race and Equity:

“Inequity in outcomes is the result of over 200 years of institutional policy and practice that excluded BIPOC Black, Indigenous, People of Color) groups from fair and equitable access to living wage employment and wealth building.”

“Government has a responsibility to right historical wrongs in which it participated, and the City of Oakland has made a commitment to address disparities through intentional equity strategies in all the City does,” Flynn said in her report.

One chart in the report shows that although Black workers comprise 12% of the nation’s workforce, they obtain roughly a flat 6% of the jobs in construction for 25 years, from 1995 to today.

National unemployment rates underscore the inequities. In July 2021, overall unemployment during the pandemic remained at 6.5%. White unemployment was lower at 5.1%, Black unemployment was significantly higher at 10.1% and Hispanic/Latino joblessness stood at 8.4%

The report listed some of the persistent barriers that at present maintain the underrepresentation of Black and female building trade membership:

  • “Vastly different, opaque, sometimes subjective entry process for each trade (somewhat like trying to get accepted into an exclusive fraternity);
  • Disparities in participation and success rates in apprenticeship programs, mainly for Black and women workers;
  • BIPOC members disproportionately hired into lower-paid apprenticeship programs;
  • Small and local contractors, many non-union but hire more women and African Americans, are often shut out of city contracting under PLA’s;
  • Poor reporting of race and gender data for unions, and “ineffective/inconsistent monitoring of contractor obligations;”
  • Poor funding for pre-apprenticeship programs;
  • Unwelcoming worksite culture for under-represented groups, lack of mentorship support for underrepresented groups;
  • Lack of public accountability for equity outcomes.

This is the first of a series of articles on Project Labor Agreements and racial equity analysis. Future articles will focus on concerns of Black construction workers and small contractors in Oakland and solutions that would produce more equitable outcomes.

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16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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California Family Whose Beachfront Properties were Seized 100 years ago, Sells Land Back to County for $20 Million

In the 1920s, the beach resort was extremely popular with African American tourists. At that time, Black people were not permitted on white beaches. The site became famously known as “Bruce’s Beach.” The children and grandchildren of Charles and Willa Bruce fought for decades to get back the land.

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Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell commemorate the signing of State legislation to return the land to the closest living heirs of the Charles and Willa Bruce. Credit / County of Los Angeles.
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell commemorate the signing of State legislation to return the land to the closest living heirs of the Charles and Willa Bruce. Credit / County of Los Angeles.

By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire

The great-grandchildren of the African American couple Willa and Charles Bruce, whose land in Southern California was taken in 1924 and returned to the family last year, have opted to sell it back to the local government for $20 million.

In the 1920s, the beach resort was extremely popular with African American tourists. At that time, Black people were not permitted on white beaches.

The site became famously known as “Bruce’s Beach.”

The children and grandchildren of Charles and Willa Bruce fought for decades to get back the land.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, a family historian and spokesman for the Bruce family, stated in a 2021 interview, “It was a very significant location because there was nowhere else along the California coast where African Americans could go to enjoy the water.”

The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists often threatened the Bruce family, but they kept the resort open and took care of the land.

In 1924, the municipal council used eminent domain to take the land to build a park.

But, according to a TV show called “The Insider,” the area wasn’t used for many years.

Willa and Charles Bruce fought back in court, but their compensation was only $14,000. In recent years, local officials have estimated the property’s value to be as high as $75 million.

The area contains two coastal properties and is currently used for lifeguard training.

Janice Hahn, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, revealed that the family would sell the property back to the local government.

Hahn stated that the price was set through an appraisal.

Hahn stated, “This is what reparations look like, and it is a model I hope governments around the country would adopt.”

The statement made by Hahn may or may not be exactly what the Bruce family desired in addition to the restitution of their land.

In 2021, Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce, told The New York Times, “An apology would be the least they could do.”

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