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Sparks Fly As Observers Call Out 'Lack of Diversity' in Organized Labor

For all the talk about diversity on the job site, a recent New York Times report suggests organized labor is not delivering. "Can Progress on Diversity Be Union-Made?" raises some very interesting questions, and as always, the unions refuse to release their diversity numbers.

We don't see how to diversity the workforce by relying on16.5% of it. That's the union share in Massachusetts in 2020, according to the Union Membership and Coverage Database at

When project owners insist on union labor, they insist on locking out the majority of minority- and women-owned firms who are by and large merit shops. They are insisting on locking out four out of five construction workers in Massachusetts.

While the Times repeats a lot of union propaganda, the article quotes observers who make the point the union system is stacked against minorities and the unions sole concern is guaranteeing work for union members.

Travis Watson, former chairman of the Boston Employment Commission:

"He is deeply frustrated by what he views as the naked discrimination barring Black and Latino workers from the high-paying construction jobs that offer a path into the middle class. He is exasperated that unions generally won’t disclose the racial and ethnic mix of the workers in their halls — aside from apprentices, which they are obliged to report — and suggests that it is because the numbers would show their lack of diversity."

Elmer Castillo, an immigrant from Honduras who rose to be vice president of Local 723 of the carpenters’ union for a couple of years:

"Workers are supposed to be selected for a job based largely on how long they’ve been unemployed. But nepotism rules in the union hall, Mr. Castillo contends. Business agents trade favors with contractors. They will place their sons, cousins and nephews in the good jobs, and they will make sure that those sons, cousins and nephews follow them up the union ranks.

“'This builds a chain that never ends, a chain of whites,' Mr. Castillo said. 'One will never have the opportunity to achieve what they achieve.'”

JocCole Burton, founder and chief executive of Maven Construction, a Boston-based merit shop:

“'The unions are in the business of making sure that the union halls get all the work, but they don’t have enough Black and brown bodies in their halls,' she said.
"Ms. Burton says she is shocked by what she sees as overt discrimination in such a liberal city. 'The racism experienced 50 years ago in Atlanta is the same we see in Boston today,' she said. 'It’s subtle — not as overt — but it is the same.' A crucial problem, she argues, 'is the unions are driving the ship when it comes to equity.'”



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