Income & Employment / 2013
Partnership for Black Workers Rising
Our idea is give Dante a chance to watch his neighborhood come alive again. We want to see Dante, a finishing carpenter and trained journeyman in his fifties, living in South Los Angeles, who remembers a time when city infrastructure projects meant work for his community, see his son, his niece, his friend, his neighbor, work again; see people from his neighborhood working on the subway line that will be under construction a few blocks from his home. We are dedicated to joining in Dante’s fight to end chronic unemployment and underemployment in his community.
In Los Angeles, black unemployment hovers at nearly 20 percent, and is estimated to be significantly higher for black men ages 16 to 25. Of those who are employed, thirty percent of black workers in LA are in low-wage industries, earning $12 per hour or less. Lack of jobs and low-paying jobs in black communities in Los Angeles relate to specific health issues, including mental health risks like stress, depression and drug addiction.
Partnership for Black Workers Rising is a project of the Coalition of Mental Health Professionals that will advance our goal to empower local residents to take charge of their communities. Created in collaboration with the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the Partnership for Black Workers Rising project is rooted in the Civil Rights model of organizing community and workers to advocate for social justice. The project will focus on economic justice as a vehicle for African Americans living in Los Angeles to successfully navigate the problems of everyday life and to end the job crisis in our communities.
The Partnership for Black Workers Rising challenges employers to foster equity and transparency in hiring practices, and provides a safe space for black workers to openly discuss issues related to their experiences in the workplace. The main objective is to offer peer support and solutions to address racism, discrimination as well as build skills and networks to turn knowledge into action. Our long-term goals of are to dismantle the barriers of employment discrimination, create access to quality jobs, and transform low-paying, low-skilled jobs into fulfilling and sustaining careers and vocations through unionization and leadership development. This project will develop the next generation of black leaders and a thriving black workforce in Los Angeles by promoting public policy advocacy and providing community education and leadership development.Public Policy Advocacy The project will continue our current programs that develop tools such as a “compliance report card” to engage community members in monitoring local hiring agreements in public construction projects. At the LA Black Worker Center the focus has been on: 1) compliance with antidiscrimination policies under the Civil Rights Act; 2) community relations; 3) access for all workers; 4) transparency in hiring practices; and 5) diversity on the job site. The compliance report card is an empowerment tool that gives community a voice in hiring standards, holds employers and agencies accountable, and brings workers and community together. We intentionally engage all residents in our monitoring campaigns, in part to build trust among diverse communities of Los Angeles, and to strengthen calls for economic justice, especially in communities of color. We will continue to provide community members with opportunities to educate their neighbors and disseminate information locally. In addition, local residents will disseminate results among peers and use this project to develop additional tools on future local project labor agreements. Community Education and Leadership Development We will provide trainings and mentorship for young black residents to increase their access and retention in construction and utility careers. We will expand current programs that prepare workers for the regulated construction industry by connecting young workers to experienced black workers in the building and construction trade unions. We recruit mentors in trade unions who can guide young black workers through the apprenticeship process. Mentees benefit from gaining broader perspectives and strategies for long-term, quality career choices and a support system and network contacts. This mentorship program promotes sustainable avenues for earning a living and positive intergenerational peer interaction. Within our education and mentorship program, we provide leadership development trainings that aim to prepare the next generation of workers, including union, low-wage, and the unemployed, to advocate for local improvements and mobilize our communities for change. Workers will build skills to develop campaigns and frame messages for the media. The idea is to advance the conversation from simply addressing individual solutions to strategies for systemic change that target the root cause of joblessness and underemployment in our community and build power for low-wage workers.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Los Angeles Metro (Metropolitan Transit Authority) Target Hiring Policy: In a coalition of local government agencies, trade unions and community organizations, we were central to a Public Works Projects Campaign to advocate that the Los Angeles County Metro adopt a five-year agreement that requires a targeted hiring program for transit projects, ultimately creating an estimated 23,000 union construction jobs. The agreement is the nation’s first master project labor agreement approved by a regional transportation agency. The campaign ensured the agreement incorporate rigorous diversity language. This language includes stronger disadvantaged criteria, including the formerly incarcerated and those emancipated from foster care; a requirement that disadvantaged workers be defined by at least two criteria; and federal civil rights and equal opportunity language, which includes affirmative action enforcement and monitoring.
Community Monitoring System and Compliance Report Card: The LA Black Worker Center (BWC) developed and piloted a community monitoring tool to foster greater community and worker participation in decision-making processes and to increase access to information in the public contraction arena. The tool provides a mechanism for accountability to the community on public infrastructure investments and how jobs are created. The BWC worked with graduate students and undergraduate research interns to develop a community monitoring tool called the “Public Construction Report Card,” which allows local residents and workers to evaluate and grade contractors’ past practices of employing a representative workforce. The report card evaluated contractors by using indicators such as community outreach and relations, accessibility, civil rights compliance, and transparency. The BWC supervised a team of BWC members and students who tested the report card tool in the field. The tool focused on four bidding contractors on the $1.7 billion Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project. Though this was a test of the tool, the results proved the public construction report card was a powerful monitoring mechanism in the high-stakes conversations with the contractors. In the end, each contractor team pledged to improve their “grades” and invited the BWC to be directly involved in their workforce pipeline process. The results of the report card pilot became the subject of high-level discussions between the office of Congresswoman Karen Bass, construction team executives, BWC members, and LA Metro staff.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Leadership Development and Mentorship Partners: African-American Sheetmetal Workers Association; Black Labor Construction Council; IBEW Local 11; SEIU 721; AFSCME International Union; MA’AT Institute for Change; SEIU United Long-Term Care Workers, and SEIU Local 721.
Monitoring Hiring for Public Works: LA CAN, SCOPE, Clean Carwash Campaign, Black Clergy Community Labor Alliance, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Holman United Methodist Church; The Ruach Community Church, Asian and Pacific Islander Legal Center, Brotherhood Crusade , Community Coalition, Paul Robeson Community Center, and SEIU African-American Caucus Western Region.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
The Coalition will evaluate project activities and measure success in three ways: 1 ) participant feedback; 2) partner response; and 3) operational assessment.
The specific evaluation processes are: 1) We will conduct surveys with participants at trainings to learn about their assessment of the materials, presentations, and accessibility of our facilitators, along with their suggestions for improvements. We will also collect data on the number of attendees. 2) We will interview partners about their experiences in the collaboration, troubleshoot during project implementation, and assimilate their recommendations into the development of new collaborative efforts. We also measure the success of partnerships by interest from new partners. 3) We will participate in an evaluation process by an external team and will apply the assessment of our strengths and shortcomings to operations and implementation of other projects. In addition, we will continue our periodic assessments of programs by debriefing with staff, reviewing participant surveys, and analyzing attendance statistics.
The overall success of our leadership development and community monitoring tools will be measured by the number of young black community members who enter pre-apprenticeship programs, participate in advocacy projects with local organizations, and ultimately join the workforce.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
The Partnership for Black Workers Rising will benefit Los Angeles by increasing Black workers’ access to quality construction jobs, holding agencies accountable for ensuring diversity in public works, and creating mechanisms to monitor agency management of project labor implementation. Our mentorship program will prepare young workers for the regulated construction industry. Our grassroots leadership development programs will prepare the next generation of union and community leaders. Our outreach will develop new and durable multi-ethnic alliances to fight for an end to joblessness and build a peaceful and prosperous LA.
Ultimately, the Partnership for Black Workers Rising will reinvigorate a tradition of community action and revive areas of Los Angeles where economic growth has all but stalled. Increasing black workers’ access to quality employment will lay the groundwork to build a Los Angeles economy that includes all residents and all neighborhoods. Black workers trained through our programs will have skills to advocate for improving not only access to jobs but also resources to address health needs, neighborhood improvement, and equity and transparency that keeps Los Angeles on the track to economic justice for all.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
In 2050, Los Angeles black workers will be represented fairly in the Los Angeles labor market through access to quality jobs, the power of worker organization and discrimination-free work sites. The LA black job crisis will be history. Policy makers will recognize that race and place impact the level of access and opportunity for quality employment. All policies meant to address unemployment and underemployment in LA will ensure the communities hardest hit by economic downtown participate in city economic growth.
LA economic development and enforcement policies will be the model for a racial equity agenda that ensures there are enough resources to include all workers regardless of race and gender at workforce table, particularly in city-funded economic development projects.
In 2050, the power of alliances among organized labor, community members, workers, civil rights organizations and multi-ethnic organizations will have successfully designed, adopted, and implemented a racial equity policy and enforcement agenda that transforms industries beyond the public construction sector to be the leading channels for black workforce development training pipelines. Los Angeles will be a model of public and private/public projects that represent the black community and by extension the black workers whose tax dollars help to fund infrastructure projects.
By 2050, we will remember that it was the power of the people that challenged all of LA to address the state of racial and economic justice with innovative tools and fresh ideas. Grassroots worker leadership and strategic community-labor alliances will have been the remedy to the broken opportunity ladder for black workers in Los Angeles. The job crisis of chronic unemployment and underemployment will no longer badly fray the social fabric of black communities and undermine LA’s economic security. The alliances and policies that this project builds today will fuel pro-worker economic policies, investment in urban communities and racial equality in the labor market in years to come. By 2050, black workers will be in a position of decision-making not only to demand equity, transparency and accountability to achieve equal access to meaningful, sustained, and quality employment for all workers, but in positions to lead major projects in a variety of industries with a commitment to equity, transparency and accountability for all of Los Angeles.