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Council Establishes Task Force to End Racially Inequitable Employment on City Construction Projects

Established by a unanimous vote of Council members at their October 5 meeting, the task force will be composed of members of the building trades and those who have been excluded from the unions and good-paying construction jobs, as well as representatives of agencies and community organizations that have a stake in the outcome of these discussions.

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The work of the task force will not be easy. Participants must design proposals that undo the historic job discrimination that dominates the construction industry, which has long been protected by the building trades unions nationally and locally.
The work of the task force will not be easy. Participants must design proposals that undo the historic job discrimination that dominates the construction industry, which has long been protected by the building trades unions nationally and locally.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council is taking steps to implement a new report calling for the end of racially inequitable employment on construction projects by setting up a task force that is expected to come up with proposals to require steadily increasing equity in hiring for building projects that are funded by city money.

The report comes in the wake of the building trade unions’ request for a citywide Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that would guarantee that most city construction jobs would go to members of their unions.

The council’s policy goal is to produce equity in city-funded construction employment. Of the unions that reported, 2% of current union members are female, and 5% are Black.

Established by a unanimous vote of Council members at their October 5 meeting, the task force will be composed of members of the building trades and those who have been excluded from the unions and good-paying construction jobs, as well as representatives of agencies and community organizations that have a stake in the outcome of these discussions.

The task force is scheduled to meet for about three months and to report back to the City Council in January with its conclusions or to inform the Council how it is progressing. Meetings of the task force will be open to the public.

The work of the task force will not be easy. Participants must design proposals that undo the historic job discrimination that dominates the construction industry, which has long been protected by the building trades unions nationally and locally.

“The City of Oakland’s commitment to embed ‘fair and just’ into all the city does calls for reframing of building trades agreements to address the historical exclusion of Black, indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and women from building trade union membership and employment,” stated a report submitted to the City Council by Darlene Flynn, director of the city’s Department of Race and Equity.

“It will require a completely redesigned approach that assigns shared responsibilities to begin to reverse over 150 years of exclusionary history and its impacts,” the report said.

In her verbal report to Council members, Flynn said the written report to the council was difficult to produce because information was hard to obtain. Ultimately, 10 of 28 building trades unions submitted data on gender, race and ethnicity of their members.

“We’ve been working on this a couple of years to get to this point,” she said. “It’s been difficult to move the equity conversation forward because of the lack of information and data.”

Though difficult, obtaining data is key, she said.

“We use racial disparity data to start our conversation,” Flynn said. “Unemployment for Black residents nationally and in Oakland is always twice that of what it is for white residents. Unemployment for Latinos in the Oakland area runs about 1.5 times as high as white residents. These are the disparities that, over time, we want to close.”

Previous Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) have focused on the interest of labor, “which are very important,” Flynn said, but they neglected workforce equity. Now, the city can use a PLA “to advance workforce equity.

Looking at long-term job discrimination, Flynn said, “There has been no meaningful increase in the representation of Black workers in the building trades to date. This is not particular to Oakland; it is historic and embedded in the industry.

“We know we have to remove structural practices and barriers to inclusive opportunities for historically underrepresented groups in trades journey-level (jobs). It’s embedded as systemic racism and sexism are in our history and our institutions.”

Flynn emphasized that intentional equity work is the priority. “As a prerequisite for a PLA, (we must) do equity work first and then design and prepare the way for PLA workforce equity proposals.”

“This is an opportunity to do something very different as opposed to tweaking around the edges. Small changes are not going to make big outcomes,” she said, emphasizing that policies need to be stronger, and they need to be enforced.

Part of the change must be to educate workers on construction jobs to end racial and gender harassment against Black and women workers, Flynn said. “This is always part of change and culture shift from one reality to another.”

Councilmember Carroll Fife underscored the seriousness of the work the Council was undertaking.

“This conversation is painful for so many reasons,” Fife said. “This is going to be challenging for all of us because we have to course-correct where things have not been equitable historically, specifically for Black folks. And we have got to be honest about that.”

This is the second of a series of articles on Project Labor Agreements and racial equity analysis.

 

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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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