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Oakland Council Seeks Racial and Gender Equity in Hiring for City-Funded Construction Projects, Part III

‘I don’t see Black people working on projects in Oakland,’ was a common comment by town hall meeting participants “(And) we have to have more discussion and focus on the lack of Black presence in the development projects,” said another.

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Community members attend a town hall meeting at the San Antonio Senior Center in the Fruitvale District to discuss racial disparities in hiring African American workers and contractors on City of Oakland building projects, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. Photo by Ken Epstein.

City held town hall meetings to hear experiences of local residents working in construction

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council is developing policies and practices to overcome barriers that prevent the hiring of African Americans and women on building projects that are funded by taxpayer dollars.

The Council is beginning implementation of a recent report from the city’s Department of Race and Equity. The report was produced in response to a request of building trade unions for a citywide Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that would guarantee most city construction jobs to members of their unions.

The Council voted in October to create a task force to gather community expertise to adopt new policies to promote equity in city-funded construction employment. The task force has not started yet, according to City Representative Karen Boyd.

So far, 10 of 28 building trades unions have submitted data on gender, race and ethnicity of their members. Of the unions that reported, 2% of current trade union members are female and 5% are Black.

To get to the present stage has already taken several years of intensive efforts by city staff, nonprofits and community groups who wrote the city report, “Improving the Effectiveness of Project Labor Agreements.”

Some of the work that led to the final report included holding town hall meetings to hear opinions and concerns of people involved in the building industry: construction workers, representatives of the building trades unions, small contractors, and community advocates.

The town hall meetings were held between June and September 2019, sponsored by the city’s Contract and Compliance Division and the Department of Race and Equity at five different locations throughout the city. A summary of these town halls was prepared by Junious Williams Consulting.

The town halls heard first-hand what participants see as “barriers to training, employment and contracting for Oakland residents in city-involved construction projects, especially for those who live in Oakland neighborhoods (and) experience negative disparate impacts in terms of access to training and employment,” according to the summary report.

One of the major themes were concerns about the “behavior and commitment of the building trades unions.” Community members said the unions, “(h)ave not been forthcoming with data on the racial composition of their membership” and proposed that “the city should not engage in negotiating a PLA/CWA (Project Labor Agreement/Community Workforce Agreement) unless the unions are willing to change their stance around data on membership and their practices, which participants saw as barriers to employment for Black workers and other Oakland residents,” according to the summary report.

‘I don’t see Black people working on projects in Oakland,’ was a common comment by participants “(And) we have to have more discussion and focus on the lack of Black presence in the development projects,” said another.

Several people mentioned that past job-producing efforts have too often stressed entry-level jobs and not top-paying, journeyman positions. “(There is) too much focus on pre-apprentice and apprentices. (There) needs to be more focus and discussion on how to increase work for journey people.” Journey people generally have additional skills and licensing and are better paid.

Some of those attending the meetings were concerned that the building trades unions function as a closed club. “The union behavior sounds like you are saying ‘I can set up a fraternity and only the people I say yes to can join.’ This should be enough to say no to a PLA,” said one speaker.

Past agreements have required certain percentages of Oakland residents to be hired on jobs, but contractors have often sidestepped the rule. “Some people complained that contractors have rented apartments near their project sites to bring in non-resident workers who are counted as Oakland residents for compliance purposes,” the summary report said.

Participants also discussed the barriers for small contractors, who are often non-union but employ the overwhelming majority of Black and women workers who obtain jobs in construction.

Barriers facing small contractors include obstacles to obtaining performance bonds, insurance and access to capital. The city needs to have “carve outs for small, non-union contracts,” which includes breaking up the scope of work to be manageable for smaller companies (and to) unbundle contracts to make them accessible to smaller companies,” the summary report said.

One of the most consistent comments was that strong policies would not be enough; the city must match the policies with strong monitoring and enforcement of any labor agreements.

“Whatever agreement (there is) must have strong teeth (sufficient staff) to deal with companies that do not follow the rules,” the summary report said.

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

Activism

Grocery Inflation Causes Food Banks to be the Default for Families in Oakland

Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, explained that while the pandemic certainly had an effect on food increases, there is not one single factor for a rise in food prices. He said events like the Ukraine-Russian war, the avian influenza epidemic that raised the price of eggs, and climate change are also key factors.

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Photo: iStock image.
Photo: iStock image.

By Magaly Muñoz

During the past three years, the US has seen the largest increase in food prices since the 1980s. In response to this crisis, community food banks have emerged to provide much-needed assistance to families in need.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that national food prices have increased 11% from 2021 to 2022, when the average yearly increase was previously 2%. The San Francisco Bay Area saw a 12% increase from 2021 to 2022.

Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, explained that while the pandemic certainly had an effect on food increases, there is not one single factor for a rise in food prices. He said events like the Ukraine-Russian war, the avian influenza epidemic that raised the price of eggs, and climate change are also key factors.

While still maintaining that elevated prices will persist for the foreseeable future, Morris anticipates a decrease of 8% in food price increases.

He also stated that while the average person may spend 10% of their income on groceries, a low-income family may spend 30%, making the inflation in food prices that much harsher.

“Higher food prices can put people in a position where they have to make some tough choices between ‘can they go to the grocery store and buy food’ or ‘do they have to spend it on other necessities like home or health care or other things,’” Morris said.

Michael Altfest is the Director of Community Engagement and Marketing for Alameda County (AC) Food Bank, the primary food distributor in the county with over 400 community partners that receive frequent donations.

Altfest shared that from 2019 to 2023, the number of pounds of food distributed to their community partners has doubled. In 2019, the food bank distributed 32.5 million pounds of food, while in 2021 during the height of the pandemic, they distributed 58.1 million pounds. This year they are on pace to distribute almost 60 million pounds of food.

“If we’re on pace this year to provide more than we did in the pandemic, I think that says a lot about what the state of hunger is right now,” Altfest said.

During the height of the pandemic, state and federal government relief programs helped families offset significant expenses like groceries. These programs included the child tax credit increase that put anywhere from $2,000 up to $3,600 back into qualifying families pockets when filing their yearly taxes.

Another program that directly targeted food insecurity, was the increase in funds for SNAP or CalFresh. These government programs provide food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people to help them maintain adequate nutrition and health. But earlier this spring, funding was cut from the state program CalFresh and families saw at least a $95 decrease in their assistance.

“Every single person talks about the cost of living in Alameda County, every single person. The cost of rent, the cost of food, those are things that come up every single time without fail,” Altfest shared.

One of AC Food Bank’s community partners is Homies Empowerment, a non-profit in Oakland that was established as a means to support youth and the community through a positive lens.

Selena Duarte, the FREEdom Store Coordinator, said the organization’s initiative to help families with food provision began in May of 2020 when their original store was filled only with books and students told them that while it was nice to have things to read, “they can’t eat books,” showing the team at Homies Empowerment that there were bigger needs in the community that they had to address.

Since then, the organization has expanded its services. They now provide groceries every Tuesday, have established the FREEdom Farm where they grow produce that gets distributed in their make-shift store, offer hot breakfast to 40 students and their families five days a week, and much more.

Duarte said that they serve almost 400 families a week and they are continuing to expand their food services due to the increasing number of people coming to them seeking help to reduce their spending on groceries. She recognized that although people say that the “pandemic is over”, she knows that the stress that families are experiencing is still very real.

“The next phase is really becoming a sustainable community food hub, where literally we can grow, share, cook, and store our food here in the community and for the community,” Duarte said.

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Oakland Post: Week of July 10 – 16, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of July 10 – 16, 2024

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“A Time to Reflect and Rejoice”: Black Caucus Members Commemorate Juneteenth on Assembly Floor

On June 17, two days before Juneteenth, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) delivered remarks on the Assembly floor commemorating the national holiday and its significance in American history.
ACR 192, introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), aims to honor, and reflect on the emancipation of African Americans from chattel slavery and honor their contributions throughout America’s history.

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Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa) speaking on the California Assembly Floor.
Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa) speaking on the California Assembly Floor.

By California Black Media

On June 17, two days before Juneteenth, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) delivered remarks on the Assembly floor commemorating the national holiday and its significance in American history.

ACR 192, introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), aims to honor, and reflect on the emancipation of African Americans from chattel slavery and honor their contributions throughout America’s history.

Speaking on the Assembly floor, Jones-Sawyer said the resolution is the CLBC’s annual commemoration of Juneteenth as “Freedom Day.”

“Two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the bell of freedom rang true for over 3 million Black Americans, marking the beginning of the fight to secure the freedom of those still enslaved and provide fair and equal treatment for the formerly enslaved,” Jones-Sawyer said.

“Juneteenth is a time to reflect and rejoice for all the work it took to reach this point, as well as a reminder that true equality is not accomplished overnight,” he added. “While there have been great strides to acknowledge and address the history and plight of Black Americans, society, as a whole, still has a long way to go. Juneteenth is an opportunity to educate all communities that we may not repeat injustices and abuses committed in the past.”

The resolution particularly highlights how Black Americans have helped enrich American civic life through their steadfast commitment to promoting unity and equality.

Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), also a member of the CLBC, spoke on behalf of the Women’s Caucus in support of Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 192, the California Legislature’s resolution acknowledging the federal holiday and celebrating the emancipation of African Americans from slavery.

Weber highlighted that African Americans won their hard-won freedom after providing free labor illegally for two-and-a-half more years in Texas.

Weber shared the story of Opal Lee, known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”  Lee is among numerous civil rights activists and leaders who campaigned for decades for June 19th to be recognized as a federal holiday.

Lee traveled around the country educating people about Juneteenth and led walks each year commemorating Juneteenth before it was federally recognized.

At 89, Lee led a symbolic walk, said Weber, from her hometown of Ft. Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., leaving in September of 2016 and arriving in January of 2017.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 and Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2024 for her activism.

“Lee represents the millions of women throughout the history of this country who have worked tirelessly to ensure that our history is not erased, reframed nor ignored,” said Weber.

Other lawmakers who recognized Juneteenth on the Assembly floor included Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), Chair of the CLBC; Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-Colton), chair of the California Legislative Latino Caucus; Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno); Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino), chair of the California Native American Legislative Caucus; and Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), also a member of CLBC.

“It is a call-to-action for all Californians to interrogate the systems that keeps others in bondage,” said Wilson.

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