The construction industry is a $1.5 trillion industry that creates pathways into the middle class for millions of workers and continues to grow. Recently, however, there has been a disturbing rise in cases of harassment and discrimination towards African American workers on job sites across the nation. According to a recent Washington Post article, since 2015, “over four dozen nooses have been reported at 40 building sites and offices in the United States and Canada.” These are not small projects or one-time occurrences at small out-of-the-way locations. Some of the incidents are happening on large construction sites of some of our largest businesses—from Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters to a Facebook Data Center. The growing number of hate-related incidents in the construction industry is a terrifying reality.
That these incidents are occurring at all is an atrocity. That these incidents took place on days special to the African American community, such as Juneteenth, which is now a Federal holiday, and the anniversary of the March on Washington should be a crime. We cannot tolerate these hate crimes. We must call on construction companies and developers, both large and small, to root out hatred of any kind and make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated and will be met with consequences. In addition, if the construction companies fail to take appropriate action, they should be fined as co-conspirators in these horrific acts.
In addition, “Appropriate Action” should include increasing the diversity of their workforce. Currently, African Americans make up only 6% of the construction workforce [that is 647,000 out of 10.8 million workers].
This is why the work that we do with Construction Career Academy is so critical. The Los Angeles Urban League has long recognized the vast gap of African American construction workers in Los Angeles and took this disparity as a call to action. In 1967 we partnered with the late Mr. James T. Mitchell to form the Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP). Since then, we have worked together to help thousands of Black and Brown Angelenos find a pathway into lucrative construction careers. This work continued throughout the 1980s as an initiative driven towards change and inclusion.
This lack of diversity is a significant factor that plagues construction work and cannot continue. Increased access to mentorship, training, and hiring opportunities for African Americans and other underserved minorities, must be an integral part of the process if any change is to occur.
Mr. Mitchell passed away in 2019. However, before Mr. Mitchell’s passing, The Los Angeles Urban League relaunched the construction pre-apprenticeship program as the Construction Career Academy in partnership with the James T. Mitchell Academy. The JTM Academy focuses on our original program’s principles with a mission to support and grow a diverse network and workforce in the construction industry. Thanks to the funding of partners like SoCalGas, we can continue to build better futures for our community. Our program participants will prepare for union apprenticeships via written and oral exam prep, life skills, and supportive services that put them on the path toward success in the field while creating lifelong bonds and support networks. These valued support systems will serve as a resource to community members as they navigate the biases encountered by far too many Black workers in the construction industry.
The Los Angeles Urban League is committed to providing opportunities for our community and fighting racial injustice and economic inequality of any kind by working to establish a support network for tradespeople, craftspeople and journeymen centered on and built by diverse leaders. We will continue to work to eliminate the environment that would sanction the existence of any environment in which African Americans or any oppressed person would feel threatened or pigeonholed into menial work simply because of the color of their skin. Our Construction Careers Academy, much like all of our programs, is here to provide support, education, and growth. We are not just building a better future for Black Angeleno’s; we are paving the way towards a better Los Angeles.