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NYC Construction Union Diversity Stacks Up to Rest of City, Other Industries

Union-affiliated BuildUp NYC workers gather in NYC.

Union-affiliated BuildUp NYC workers gather in NYC.

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Following a blog post on Crain’s New York titled “Blacks missing out on construction jobs,” the city’s unions responded noting that union construction is an exception to this trend.  Among the respondents was Robert Bonanza, business manager of the 17,000-member Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York and Long Island. He claims that over half of his LiUNA! District Council members are black and 75 percent are minorities.

“The unionized sector of the construction history has made great strides in being more inclusive,” he wrote. “Its apprenticeship programs are providing training and skills to thousands of young men and women of color, so that the next generation of construction worker will enjoy the same middle-class standard of living that the current and previous generations enjoyed. … It is the nonunion sector that is feeding the race to the bottom.”

Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, also argues that unions foster diversity in the city:

“Blacks missing out on construction jobs” doesn’t tell the whole story. While 13% of construction workers in the city are black, among unionized workers it’s 21.3%, according to an Economic Policy Institute study. That is close to the 23.3% who are black in the overall workforce.

It’s in non-union construction where blacks are severely underrepresented: 13.8%, according to EPI. On top of this, a Columbia University study on the Edward J. Malloy Construction Skills pre-apprenticeship program reported that almost 90% of the enrolled youth are black, Hispanic or Asian, with 100% coming from the five boroughs.

We have made great strides to diversify the trades with initiatives like our pre-apprenticeship program, which is a strong indicator of the future makeup of the unionized construction industry. We do agree with Mr. David, however, that the lack of health insurance is in fact a “stain” on the nonunion sector. All union members receive middle-class wages and good benefits.

Numerous union-sponsored programs across the country seek to help young minorities prepare themselves for a career in the building trades. Similar programs are being aimed at woman in hopes of diversifying the trades from a gender perspective.  Among the more notable programs are Building Pathways (Boston), C.H.O.I.C.E (Washington, DC), and Building Union Diversity (St. Louis).


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