Op-ed National Black Contractors Association pens an open letter to SANDAG’s Board of Directors

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Op-ed – 12/16/21

PHOTO: Jess Hawes a San Diego Contractor and board member of the National Black Contractors Association

This Friday you will make an important decision on whether to create a Community Benefits Agreement for SANDAG and essentially how over 160 billion dollars will be spent over the next three decades. We are coming to you on the basis of what we would consider morally right. What we would consider being just and fair as you are deciding on this critical vote Friday will determine how SANDAG spends billions of dollars within the construction industry and in particular how SANDAG will prioritize communities that have been historically marginalized when it comes to working.

Today’s war for equity is more than just a 6-letter word. This word has been elevated because of George Floyd’s 2020 killing and institutions like yours made commitments to equity during that time and after. Many love to profess language of “equity and inclusion” while never agreeing to truly dismantle the historic wrongs done toward Black Americans and people of color. Writing laws to force society into unionization specifically the Black community who has been historically marginalized within San Diego’s labor unions is wrong. This leaves these communities at an automatic disadvantage to not having the option to openly compete on construction projects without constraints. Unions are 20% of America’s backbone in the construction industry who have victoriously dominated the free will of public officials into making the wrong decisions out of fear of reprisal. The concern is Project Labor Agreements better known as PLA’s. This now comes in the form of a “Community Benefits Agreement” at SANDAG. 

The question is what communities will this benefit plan represent? The skillful language of deception is painting an illusion of inclusion where we claim victories in removing the barriers of all state-approved apprenticeships. PLA’s have historically excluded apprenticeships like the National Black Contractors Association “Inner-city Community Unilateral Apprenticeship Committee,” from participating on public works projects. The issue with the CBA being voted on is that although all State of California approved apprenticeships will be allowed to participate in the SANDAG $160 Billion dollar 30-year construction projects but only with one caveat; the non-union sponsored apprenticeships, like the National BCA will not be allowed to receive State of California apprenticeship training fees, which is how apprenticeship are funded and their apprentices will lose their fringe benefits that come with their hourly pay, which under this PLA will go to the unions.

This reminds us of stopping the water from going downstream into a historic Black town in the State of California called Allensworth. Allensworth was the first town in California established exclusively by Black Americans. Allensworth was founded in 1908 and named after Allen Allensworth who was born into slavery in Louisville, Kentucky, and moved to the liberal state of California! African Americans were arriving in California seeking economic freedom, justice, and equity in a land of freedom and wide-open space only to find out that there was no true liberty in the State of California for free Blacks. Although their town was not burned to the ground and its people were not massacred like the other 140 free black towns post-slavery, such as Tulsa, Oklahoma or Eatonville of Florida, etc.

Now today America’s first and only Black and BIPOC based federal and state-approved apprenticeship program in the heart of urban inner-city San Diego, CA, California at large and the nation will be able to participate in the SANDAG $160 billion dollar construction projects but without the funds provided by the state to train its urban inner-city apprentices to get them ready for work on billions of dollars worth of construction over the next few decades.

We are asking you to reconsider this important concern we raise. Saying everyone is now included in the work ahead but giving all of these apprenticeship dollars to labor unions only fattens their pockets and weakens the pockets of urban inner-city programs like ours and it is an illusion of inclusion. The National Black Contractors Association must be included in these kinds of agreements and these dollars are critical to our training efforts for Black and BIPOC people within San Diego’s urban inner city.

Please fix the issue pertaining to where apprenticeship dollars go because those dollars are critical to our efforts and our community. Please vote your conscience Friday and think about the long haul. Do you want to go down in history killing programs like the National Black Contractors Association? These programs provide free apprenticeships to struggling urban inner-city youth and young adults. Killing our program’s access to agreements like this kills urban inner-city development of those already struggling in poverty. These dollars are critical to our existence.   

Op-ed published by SDMNEW The San Diego Monitor News

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