Black Workers in White Unions: Job Discrimination in the United States

By William B. Gould | Go to book overview

11 Private Initiative in the Construction Industry: The How and Why of Imposed and Voluntary Plans

The story of trade union and government programs aimed at eliminating discrimination in the construction industry is a complicated and at times confusing one. Yet its persistent theme is the inadequacy of both private and government efforts. The unions, with the sanction and indeed financial support of the executive branch of the federal government during both Democratic and Republican administrations, have granted union entry to a limited number of minority workers who have had to move up the job ladder -- as many have courageously done -- without any of the protection or benefits afforded by the law of Title VII. All the programs proposed or supported by the unions have required blacks and other racial minorities to surmount the motivational barriers resulting from unlawful apprenticeship standards and craft referral practices. These practices have emerged unscathed whenever the unions and employers rather than the judiciary have had primary responsibility.

In late January 1967, the Department of Labor provided a grant of $277,688 to the Workers Defense League and the A. Philip Randolph Education Trust to prepare "young men, particularly Negroes and the Puerto Ricans" to take apprenticeship examinations in New York City, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Westchester County, New York. The program, which was predicated upon the belief that unfamiliarity with the examination structure and lack of awareness of and interest in the trades were the greatest obstacles to blacks obtaining access to construction jobs, was geared to provide medical examinations, tests, counseling, and job referrals to minority applicants.

The next action of significance was a February 13, 1968, accord between the Department of Labor and the building trades unions. On February 1, 1968, C. J. Haggerty, president of the Building & Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO stated in a letter to Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz1 that the unions in the department would attempt to foster organized programs which would provide for the recruitment of "qualified applicants for apprenticeship from Negro population and other minority groups" and also programs which would identify "deficiencies affecting the full qualification of Negro and other minority group applicants" with a view toward remedying them "if practical." The assumptions

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