In St. Louis, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists recently had its 41st annual convention, the last to be presided over by the only President the professional organization has ever known, William “Bill” Lucy. Lucy’s outlook is somewhat grim though he does see one possibility for improvement:
“When you have 35 percent unemployment (among the building trades), no one is anxious to do anything for anyone except their own members,” said Lucy, who has headed the Washington, D.C.-based organization since its inception in 1972.
Lucy sees Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) as a way to increase diversity, especially on large, state-funded projects:
The exceptions are a product of “community workforce agreements” (also known as “project labor agreements”) forged by political, labor, business, religious and community leaders in the District of Columbia, Cleveland, New York and, particularly, Los Angeles.
The pacts, stipulating an acceptable percentage of minority participation, are drawn up by representatives of the various factions during the planning phases of major projects.
“The key to making it work is for aggressive labor leadership to bring everyone to the table,” Lucy said.
This site has chronicled these diversity enhancing agreements extensively across the nation. A search of “PLAs” yields a wealth of material.
CBTU St. Louis chapter President, Lew Moye, is trying to arrange PLAs with the city.
Moye said the CBTU has initiated discussions with the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District to implement a community workforce agreement over the course of infrastructure improvement projects expected to stretch over 23 years, at a cost of nearly $5 billion.
“We’re not just interested in developing projects,” Moye said. “We’re interested in developing careers.”
As the industry claws its way back to normalcy, many African-American and minority leaders hope that this will be a time to let past differences be forgotten and to forge an inclusive future together.
“50 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing…Racism won’t go away overnight. But economic exploitation can be born overnight. And that’s the issue people need to come to grips with.”