The Black Workers Center and Young Black Contractors Association are two local organizations that are passionate about ensuring that Black construction workers are included in the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor project, which will reportedly create 3,000 jobs for South L.A. residents. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) approved a $1.27 billion design/build contract with Walsh/Shea contractors last Friday.
Drexel Johnson, founder and executive director of Young Black Contractors Association (YBCA), says the next step for his organization is to meet with the MTA and the City Council to inform them of his meeting with Walsh/Shea. Johnson says that although he met with the contractor at their Chicago offices back in March, he remains skeptical about the corporation’s willingness to have Black construction workers involved in the Crenshaw/LAX project. The 8.5-mile light rail line will run south from the Expo Line to the Green Line.
He, like other construction workers, has been disheartened by the lack of a Black presence on many large, government-funded construction projects. They also wonder why the community’s political and civil rights leaders have not spoken out about the disparity.
Johnson says he was given a commitment from Walsh/Shea that they would meet with him once the firm was awarded the MTA contract but, though he has followed up with the contractor, he has not heard back from them. Similarly, Johnson said he has not heard from the Los Angeles Urban League with whom he has been in contact. Johnson indicated that the Urban League is acting as a hiring agent for Walsh/Shea.
“The YBCA has very high regards for the Urban League, as it relates to their longevity of training and educating our youth in the community,” he said. “However, we feel that there’s a disconnect, a block or deflection, or some sort of misdirection planned against local contractors simply because the Urban League hasn’t contacted us.” Phone calls to the Urban League were not returned in time for their comments to be included.
Lola Smallwood Cuevas, director of the Black Workers Center, noted that she has visited a number of large construction sites that didn’t have any Black workers. She says Proposition 209, which prohibits public institutions from hiring workers based on race, sex or ethnicity, is the biggest issue. However, discrimination is illegal. Proposition 209 was passed in November 1996.
This isn’t the first project the Black Workers Center has been involved with, and Cuevas said the center has two strategies to ensure that Black workers will be involved at the Crenshaw/LAX construction site.
“First, we’re going to identify and find workers and educate them on how to network by attending board meetings, going to employment agencies and building relationships with contractors. Secondly, we will teach workers about the union. Knowing about the union is very important for contractors,” says Cuevas.
The construction on the Crenshaw/LAX line is expected to begin in the coming months. Those interested may contact the Black Workers Center at (323) 752-7287 and the Young Black Contractors Association at (323) 385-0639 for further information.