Community hearing told of construction job bias: 1970
As part of a campaign to increase the number of black workers in construction jobs, Reginald Booker of the Washington Area Construction Industry Task Force organized a community hearing on discrimination in the industry May 18, 1970.
The panel of community representatives, Sammie Abbott, Julius Hobson, Calvin Rolark, Charles Cassell and Edgar Cahn, heard from workers, community representatives and minority contractors.
Booker called for the hiring of black workers on the job in the same percentage as the population in the city.
The bonding procedure for black contractors should be waived and work training programs sponsored by the government are worthless, testified Cordell Shelton of Construction Trades, Inc.
The panel was expected to make recommendations to the government after hearing all the testimony.
The Labor Department had announced a “Washington Plan” in May that would supposedly integrate the industry over a four year period.
It set quotas of between 25 and 40 percent minority hiring for 11 skilled construction trades before the end of 1974 and lifted a freeze on Metro construction that had been in place because of the lack of black and other workers of color.
Booker immediately denounced the plan as “devoid of promise” and “wholly unacceptable” at a June 4, 1970 press conference at the Labor Department.
Specifically, the task force charged that the plan was diluted by including the predominantly white suburbs of Virginia and Maryland,
“It serves little purpose to offer an unemployed but eligible black construction worker residing in D.C. a job in Reston, Va. or some other remote construction site when in his own city the overwhelming majority of jobs will continue to go to whites,” the task force wrote in a letter to Secretary of Labor George P. Schultz.
The task force also blasted the Labor Department for excluding a number of crafts from the plan, including carpenters and operating engineers; for low quotas on unions like the sheet metal workers, for “discrimination committed over the years;” for “escape clauses” that make the plan unenforceable; and for not addressing the “restrictive” bonding and insurance requirements for federal contracts that are out of reach for most minority contractors.
Few modifications were made to the “Washington Plan” and as Booker predicted, it did not deliver on its promise.
The Washington Post reported in November 1975, a year after the Washington Plan hiring goals were to have been met, that black skilled workers still composed a small percentage of the construction crafts.
They ranged from 8.6 percent of elevator constructors to a high of 38.9 percent of operating engineers. However, even those figures are misleading because most minority workers were concentrated among trainees and apprentices and not among the highest paid journeymen.
It didn’t get much better 10 years after the Washington Plan was put into effect. None of the craft unions met hiring goals. Only an average of 10 percent of all journeymen across all construction craft unions were from a minority group.
As Booker predicted, the federal government did not enforce the plan. The District’s mayor’s office found that more than 60 percent of all reviewed building sites in the city did not meet hiring guidelines, but only two of 1,000 contractors investigated on site were barred from doing federally assisted construction which was the ultimate penalty for non-compliance.
For a detailed account of Booker’s activism, victories and defeats, see washingtonareaspark.com/2020/01/28/the-d-c-black-liberati...
For more information and related images, see www.flickr.com/gp/washington_area_spark/h57G6d
The image is clipped from a longer May 19, 1970 Washington Post article.