Black contractors call Oakland’s proposed Project Labor Agreement ‘modern day slavery’

In the Bay Area and nationwide, Blacks have been locked out of construction for more than 20 years, leaving the community too weak to defend against gentrification, eviction and homelessness. Both Oakland and San Francisco claim a severe construction worker shortage, yet they keep hiring major white contractors who refuse to hire or subcontact to Blacks. Here, former Black Panther political prisoner Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin protests the job lockout in Black communities.

Demand contracts and jobs for Black Oakland; come to the final community workshop on Monday, Aug. 19, 7-9 p.m., at the San Antonio Senior Center, 3301 E. 12th St., Oakland

by Eddie Dillard

The City of Oakland’s Office of the City Administrator, Department of Contracts and Compliance, held the second of three community engagement workshops on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, 10 a.m. to 12 noon, at the West Oakland Youth Center.

The purpose of the workshop was to seek input from community stakeholders on the potential impacts of a proposal to attach a citywide Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to the currently proposed Surplus Land Ordinance. Also included in the discussion was the creation of a Community Workforce Agreement as an element of the PLA.

Darlene Flynn

Darlene Flynn, director of the City of Oakland’s Race and Equity Department, provided a statistical analysis of the current landscape in the City of Oakland and Julius Williams was the moderator. Unlike the previous workshop held in East Oakland, the union labor representatives were noticeably absent. Although the total number of participants was considerably smaller, the dialogue was much more comprehensive and informative.

Brigitte J. Cook, chief of staff for Council Member Lynette Gibson McElhaney, was present along with numerous community activists. The audience of predominantly Black contractors opposed the concept of a blanket overall PLA, and several explained the reasons for their position.

Willie McGary, owner of Hercules Builders, was one of the Black contractors whose stories are told in “Black contractors lose their shirts on Shipyard project,” published by the Bay View in February 2017. – Photo: J.D. Shutt

Willie McGary, a 30-year Black contractor and owner of Hercules Builders, said: “A Project Labor Agreement is a form of modern day slavery. Just like crop sharing unions, they force you to pay union dues and give you nothing in return. If you don’t pay, they boycott your business and make it difficult for you to get work.”

This second workshop created 25 specific recommendations to be delivered to the Oakland City Council prior to any adoption of a Project Labor Agreement. City staff assured the participants that their issues and concerns will be relayed to the full Council and will not be altered by City staff.

Monsa Nitoto

The Black contractors requested that a special engagement workshop be convened with the City Council members present so they can be educated on these issues directly rather than a two-minute introduction at the City Council meeting. “A policy decision of this magnitude deserves the Council’s full participation, not lip service. This issue is just as important as the homeless crisis,” said Monsa Nitoto, executive director of the Workforce Collaborative.

Twenty years ago, Oakland had 15 Black printing firms; today, there are none. Fifty years ago, when Ray Dones set up the National Association of Minority Contractors, there were 350 Black construction firms in Oakland; today, there are fewer than 100. Black contractors are on a path to extinction.

Gene Hazzard

Gene Hazzard, Post Newspaper Group and community activist, said: “It is a falsehood that Oakland Blacks are not skilled enough to get work in the construction industry. These white general contractors import workers from outside Oakland and put them up in local hotels and claim them as Oakland residents. With the Office of Contract Compliance having one person to monitor 80-plus projects, no one verifies compliance with local hire.”

He continued, “You look at the 15-plus large projects in downtown Oakland with large cranes, and you will see none of them have Black contractor participation and a majority have no Black workers on the job site.”

Jonathan Dumas, employment services supervisor, Contracts and Compliance, City of Oakland, stated, “The City of Oakland cannot require local hire or local business participation on privately financed projects.”

“The only way to address this issue of developers and general contractors not being inclusive of local and minority participation on privately financed projects is by amending the building permit code to require any project which requires a conditional or unconditional use permit by the Oakland Planning Commission to comply with the City of Oakland’s 50 percent resident and local hire requirement.

“There are three ways this can be done; 1) voluntarily by the applicant for the permit, 2) by direction of the City Council, and 3) by Oakland ballot approval.”

Louis Summerhill, a 25-year electrical contractor said: “Their (union) policies are designed to discriminate against Black contractors and Black workers. The unions have, by design, moved all of their certified, state approved apprenticeship training programs out of Oakland. They have set up training programs in Pleasanton, Fairfield, Benicia, Sacramento, Concord and San Jose – locations that are difficult for Oakland residents to access.

Eddie Dillard and his sons – from left, Jason Dillard, a real estate broker in Sacramento, Eddie Dillard, dad, in the black tux, Jessie Dillard, a loan officer for Wells Fargo Bank in Sacramento, and Kevian Dillard, a fleet operations manager for Mercedes Benz in Pittsburg. “They are all married and I have seven granddaughters and one grandson. I am blessed,” says Eddie.

“I believe that unless and until unions agree and demonstrate an adjustment to their policies and practices, we should not give them the privilege of having a dedicated Project Labor Agreement on City-sponsored projects.”

“In addition,” added Ed Dillard, “developers and prime contractors should be fined a substantial amount for non-compliance with local hire goals. If they choose to pay a minimal fee for non-compliance, they should be barred from future City contracts.”

Bernida Reagan with Merriwether and Williams Insurance Services stated: “Black contractors need help because they cannot get the performance bonds required to work on public works projects. There needs to be a technical assistance provision in the proposed Project Labor Agreement to address this barrier for small, minority and woman owned businesses.”

Currently, the City of Oakland issues less than 5 percent of its contracts to African American businesses. The City is conducting a voter mandated disparity study to identify areas of discrimination and potential recommendations to remedy the disparities. No Surplus Lands policy should be adopted prior to the release of this very important disparity study.

The third and final community engagement workshop will be held on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, at the San Antonio Senior Center, 3301 E. 12th St., Oakland, 7-9 p.m.

Eddie Dillard, freelance writer for the Oakland Tribune, Oakland Post, Globe Newspaper and Daily Californian, can be reached at 510-706-9005 or edillard927@gmail.com. He worked 30 years for City of Oakland Office of Economic Development and for 15 years served as president of Oakland’s Black Chamber of Commerce.