A coalition of national and local labor groups, including the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, recently united for a town hall at Los Angeles Civic Center’s Grand Park to call on the Biden-Harris administration to act on giving Black workers access to jobs created by all U.S. infrastructure investment plans, including a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill expected to be passed by House Democrats.
The Build Back Better For All Workers town hall demanded affirmative administrative relief that sets a clear and relevant standard for participation levels of Black workers and other underrepresented workers on federally funded and assisted projects. By creating this relief, these workers, who have historically faced the highest rates of chronic unemployment and underemployment due to racism and discrimination, will have fair participation in the nation’s infrastructure investments and employment opportunities.
Coalition leaders urged the Biden-Harris administration to update the Equal Employment Opportunity Executive Order 11246 by expanding access to Black workers and other workers facing employment discrimination to ensure that any infrastructure legislative package gives employment opportunities to the communities which have been denied access to living wage jobs due to systemic racism. Coalition leaders also appealed for the administrative action to create affirmative administrative relief to remove the threat of deportation and grant work authorization for workers who have reported workplace abuses. The town hall event highlighted how Build Back Better infrastructure projects risk leaving behind millions of workers who face massive unemployment, discrimination and retaliation – unless the Biden-Harris administration immediately takes bold action.
“We will not be pitted against each other, but rather come together for equity to say we need bold action from the Biden-Harris administration,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, co-chair of the Southern California Black Worker Hub for Regional Organizing. “Workers in our community represent those who risked their lives last November to usher in change. We know this administration doesn’t have to wait for Congress. They can show the same courage and provide administrative relief now.”
The town hall reached more than 250 people, as the event was live streamed and posted on Facebook. Civic leaders who attended the town hall to express their support of the coalition’s efforts to help Black workers and other workers from underserved communities receive greater access to federal infrastructure projects included Greg Good, president of the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works; Jacqueline Hamilton, district director for Congresswoman Karen Bass; and Capri Maddox, director of the City of Los Angeles Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department. Congresswoman Judy Chu virtually participated in the event to vocalize her support.
Several Black and Immigrant workers also attended the town hall to give testimonials about their personal experiences with racism, job loss and intimidation in the workplace, demonstrating why updating Executive Order 11246 is vitally important.
“As a Black worker, I have always struggled to find stable employment. For the jobs I’ve had, I faced prejudice in the workplace,” said Devon Williams, one of the workers who shared his story during the town hall. “So I’m calling on the Biden-Harris administration to give Black workers, like me, access to jobs created by all U.S. infrastructure plans. By doing so, this will help our Black citizens take better care of our families and communities.”
Black workers represent 11 percent of all new construction apprentices and 13 percent of the U.S. workforce. But only 6 percent of U.S. construction workers are African-American. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for Black workers in California was the highest of any group at 13.5 percent, while the overall California unemployment rate was 10.6 percent, despite Black people representing 6 percent of the state’s population.
To learn more about the Southern California Black Worker Hub for Regional Organizing as well as Build Back Better For All, visit socalblackworkersunited.org.