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

By William B. Gould | Go to book overview

13
The Seattle Building Trades Decree

The Seattle building trades decree,1 the earliest and, at the time of its issuance, the most comprehensive Title VII decree rendered by any court, illustrates the potential effectiveness of Title VII litigation compared to efforts by the executive branch in attacking discrimination. Predictably, the AFL-CIO lost no time in maligning it. The decree's potential, even more than its accomplishment, poses a substantial threat to the AFL-CIO's position that the law is not a viable way to overcome labor discrimination, that the best method of bringing minorities into the construction trades is through the unions' own apprenticeship plans such as Project Outreach. The Seattle decree not only eliminated existing institutional rigidities in the unions' apprenticeship plans; it also required that the rate of integration be accelerated beyond the "deliberate speed" prescribed for school desegregation by the Warren Court in Brown v. Board of Education [ II ].2 Like all novel and ambitious ventures, the decree has had more than its share of difficulties. Nevertheless, experience under the decree indicates that the law can have a substantial impact in providing equal employment opportunities.


Prelude to Litigation: The Seattle Demonstrations 3*

When Tyree Scott got his discharge papers from the Marine Corps in 1966, he returned to Seattle and went to work with his father, a nonunion electrician, in what he describes as "just about a one-man shop."4 That year the Scotts, who are black, grossed $9,000. Within three years the construction boom of the late 1960's had given the Scotts substantial new opportunities, and they began to obtain some large contracts. In 1969, they were earning more than ten times as much as they had in 1966. They had hired some skilled journeymen, and Scott had decided that in order to compete for the big contracts he had to come to terms with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 46. In Seattle and other cities, the larger and more lucrative commercial contracts cannot be obtained without having a collective-bargaining agreement with a union: the unions which bargain with the general contractor and other subcontractors pressure their own employers to, in turn, force the nonunion contractor to bargain collectively -- often as the result of a threatened or actual picket line.5 The sanction in this situation, of course, is a refusal to cross the picket line.

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