Protesters: Hire More Black Workers

Thomas MacMillan, New Haven Independent (Connecticut), October 19, 2009

Passing by a school construction job site, Alan Felder saw a lot of Latinos at work. He didn’t like that.

Monday Felder returned to the school with former Mayor John Daniels–to lead a protest.

Felder led a group of a dozen men who picketed at 360 Columbus Ave. where the city is building a new home for the Roberto Clemente School.

Along with former Mayor Daniels, Felder called for more African-Americans to be employed on school construction projects throughout the city.

The problem is both “systemic and systematic,” Felder said, and represents “unfinished business” left over from the Civil Rights Movement.

Felder also suggested that construction companies may be hiring undocumented immigrants, thereby “taking jobs away” from local black workers.

How did he know they may be undocumented?

He didn’t ask them when he passed by the site on Saturday, Oct. 10.

Rather, he looked through the fence and saw that the workers appeared to be all Latino, he said. “They could’ve been undocumented. They look like they came from South America.”

Unions rarely work on Saturdays, he said, so he thought to himself: “Wait a minute, something’s wrong.”

City spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said Monday that 35 percent of school construction workers citywide are black or Hispanic, which “exceeds requirements.” A check Monday at Clemente found 43 percent of the workers on that job were black or Hispanic. She said that the city will look into Felder’s accusation that undocumented workers may be employed at Roberto Clemente.

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Workers at the job site said on Monday that the workforce includes plenty of African-Americans.

Man Up

The city should be employing more local African-Americans in construction jobs, Felder said. “I’m a New Haven native and that’s my complaint,” said Felder, who works as a plumber. If the city is hiring “newly arrived immigrants” rather than local blacks, “something is fundamentally wrong with that,” he said.

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“The issue is immigration economics,” Felder said. “Native borns, particularly blacks, can’t get employment.”

Felder said that the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) signed by all unions working on city school construction allows contractors to avoid hiring blacks. “For us it’s a Preference Labor Agreement,” he said.

Hope Wiggins, a monitor with New Haven’s Commission on Equal Opportunities (CEO), showed up at Monday’s protest, to rebut the charges.

She explained the requirements of the PLA. School construction workforces must comprise 25 percent racial minorities, 25 New Haven residents, 6.9 percent women, and 15 percent apprentices, she said.

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(City Hall’s statistics, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey, shows the black population at 38 percent and Hispanic at 26 percent.)

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The under-employment of African-Americans in constructions projects is a citywide problem, particularly at Yale University, Daniels said.

Felder argued that having an umbrella “minority” category is deceptive. There should be separate requirements for black employment, he said.

“Hello! Let’s look at the mathematics here,” Felder said. “My main concern is that our black babies are dying.” The black unemployment rate in New Haven is 35 percent, more than double the national rate of 15 percent, he said. “My belief is that our priorities need to be reset and readjusted.”

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Felder said he wanted to see minority workforce statistics separated by race. “We’re asking them to break it down.”

Contacted later by phone, city spokesperson Mayorga said African-Americans and Latinos comprise 35 percent of construction workers on school sites, she said. The city doesn’t have a breakdown of Latinos versus African-Americans.

“It does exceed the requirement,” she said. “We have a very diverse group of workers on these projects.”

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