Bay Area Black Builders will join mass JOBS RALLY Saturday, May 8, 12 noon, new Federal Building, 7th & Mission, SF – Monthly 2nd Saturday meetings resume June 12
Editor’s note: Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff’s construction company, Liberty Builders, has advanced to the second stage of competition for the contract to build the new Bayview Library. The next hurdle is bonding, a barrier that usually locks Blacks out. Ratcliff has a long proven record of hiring from the community. With the people’s support and City Hall’s cooperation, we CAN put our community back to work. Ratcliff, who will be a speaker at the May 8 Jobs Rally, urges readers to join him there to put Blacks front and center in demanding everyone’s right to a living-wage job.
by Joseph Debro, Bay Area Black Builders
Construction is not rocket science. Slaves who could not read nor write built many of the mansions still standing in the South. Unions were formed in 1867 to protect low skilled white workers from having to compete with highly skilled Black craft workers who were formerly slaves. Today unions require tests to enter the apprenticeship programs. Friends and relatives preview most of these tests in preparation to compete against non-connected applicants (Black).
Today many unions find ways of limiting Blacks from their membership rolls. When work was heavy, unions welcomed craft workers from other jurisdictions. This was good for the unions. It did nothing for the Black unemployed. Some union wages start at $85 dollars per hour. These wages are worth fighting for. That is why we fight so hard for union membership. Just because we criticize unions, we are not anti-union. We would like to see them stronger and fairer to the Black community and we would like to all have union cards.
Some union wages start at $85 dollars per hour. These wages are worth fighting for.
Governments limit access to contracts by Black contractors. No Black contractors means few Black workers. All government construction requires a bond. Bonding companies are all white. Their ownership is white, their boards of directors are all white, their executives are almost all white and their underwriters are all white. Bonding decisions are all subjective.
As the executive director of the National Association of Minority Contractors, I proposed and help enact into law a surety bond guarantee program. That program is now called the SBA Surety Bond Program. It provides a 90 percent guarantee against loss for any surety company that writes a bond of up to $5 million for small contractors. Only 12 percent of these bonds are written for Black contractors.
Governments limit access to contracts by Black contractors. No Black contractors means few Black workers.
As executive director of the California Office of Small Business, I founded a minority owned bonding company. It was called Builders Mutual Surety Co. It was issued a certificate of authority in December 1977. This company was too small and it was undercapitalized. The paid-in capital and surplus was all borrowed money at 19 percent interest. The company was liquidated in 1997.
It is now time that local governments stop using this bonding impediment as an excuse. There is no reason that local governments cannot be more aggressive in this arena. First, local governments should waive bid bonds. This would allow small contractors to get in the game. Second, local governments should guarantee bonds for companies whose owners live within the geographical boundaries of its jurisdiction.
The state constitution requires bonds for material and performance. Such bonds are prudent. There is, however, no such requirement for a bid bond. Jurisdictions can accept bonds from companies that are not admitted to the state of California. Government units must become more pro-active. Hiring more bounty hunters to find Black contractors is not the answer. Conversations with successful Black contractors may yield better results. Buying debentures, for example, is much more helpful than loan funds.
Local governments should guarantee bonds for companies whose owners live within the geographical boundaries of its jurisdiction.
Governments claim that they would like to include more Black contractors. Unions claim that they would like to issue more union cards to Black and Brown workers. These are goals consistent with those of the Bay Area Black Builders. We need to work together to bring about economic parity in the community of the poor.
Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders. He is also president of the Visitacion Valley Community Development Corp., co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors, a general engineering contractor and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.