As I drive over a bridge, down Canal Street or impatiently wait for the traffic to move on any New York City street, it is not uncommon to see construction workers in the middle of the action. These days I can even spot a few Black construction workers and even a female traffic flagger!
Nearly 13 years ago the only way for Black people to break into construction in New York was by joining a community-based coalition organized by Black people who felt they deserved a piece of the construction pie. A coalition would “shape up,” traveling from construction site to construction site building relationships with contractors, negotiating a job here or there, or pressuring contractors to employ a Black person. Coalitions thus opened the way for Blacks to get good paying jobs with excellent benefits without necessarily having a skill or special training. Indeed, most of today’s Black union members got their start in a coalition. And I daresay there were no women to speak of in construction before coalitions blazed that trail.
Coalition construction groups still serve a valuable purpose. By no means are they perfect. Some are plagued with infighting; they spend an inordinate amount of time fighting each other for a job or two from contractors, with the winner taking home the prize, and some of them continue to grapple with issues of fairness, honesty and effectiveness. Still, they are a necessary and effective tool in breaking down the walls that keep Blacks from moving successfully into this lucrative industry.
Today, however, there are additional routes for Blacks wishing to get into construction to take. Because of many city, state and federal affirmative action regulations, as well as federal grant regulations, Blacks and women have more opportunities to enter the field. Almost every construction union offers training programs and apprenticeships that are state and federally funded. In order to obtain this funding, unions must open their doors to Blacks and women.
It is also important to note that construction is a thriving business in New York, with massive projects opening up in the city’s five boroughs, including three new power plants in Brooklyn and the Bronx, the expansion of roads to accommodate the city’s growing population, and a new water tunnel. These, plus the possibility of New York hosting the 2012 Olympics, spell thousands of new construction jobs in the city. For Blacks to get a greater share of this prosperity, they must take advantage of the various apprenticeships and training programs right now. Such programs exist for pavers, roadbuilders, sheet metal and ironworkers, drywall tapers and many more. Most apprenticeships and training programs last for one to three years. Average hourly wages range from $13 to $25 an hour until training is complete. Once the apprenticeship is completed, the employee will jump to the full union pay scale, depending on which union they apprenticed with.
Rose Sias, a construction Laborer out of Local #731, has been in construction for more than 11 years, starting through the Black Economic Survival organization.
Training Programs and Apprenticeships
The following unions offer paid training programs
• Blasters, Drill Runners and Miners Local 29
• Buildings, Concrete and Excavation
Laborers Local 731 – 212-755-2405
• United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America Locals 20, 45, 157, 608
Joint Apprenticeship Committee
Technical College – 212-366-7500
• Heavy Equipment Operators (IUOE)
Joint Apprenticeship Committee,
Local 15 Training Center–
South end of Lefferts Blvd.,
South Ozone Park, N.Y.
• Electricians IBEW
Local Union 25