Underrepresented Workers & The Community
Project Labor Agreements emphasize creating opportunities for members of the local community. In the current economic downturn, our communities are suffering from high unemployment and few opportunities to thrive. The construction industry offers unique opportunities for low-income communities, because it is one of the few industries where Americans with no formal education can enroll in apprenticeship programs and gain the job skills necessary to earn a family-supporting income. Public infrastructure projects are putting people to work, and PLAs ensure that these projects are doing the most for our communities, by keeping jobs local, creating opportunities for underserved populations, and creating pathways from poverty sustainable, family-supporting careers.
Because PLAs can be negotiated by the construction user, public institutions like school boards or city councils can leverage their construction investments to achieve socioeconomic goals such as increasing opportunities for minorities. African-Americans have historically been underrepresented in the construction industry, and while Latinos make up a large percentage of the construction workforce, they tend to be concentrated in jobs that are low paying, less unionized, less skilled, and often the most dangerous. PLAs have great success in connecting such underrepresented groups with good jobs and apprenticeships that set the groundwork for successful careers. The benefits of a PLA also extend far beyond the project’s completion as partnerships they create between community groups and the apprenticeship programs continue to thrive.
PLAs have also created successful pathways for school programs, particularly in low-income, urban communities. For example, the school boards in Los Angeles, San Jose, and Chicago have leveraged their construction projects to implement school-to-work programs for their students and expand vocation education programs into both the blue-collar and white-collar construction occupations. The construction industry is facing a looming shortage of skilled crafts workers, so this next generation of journeymen and women will be in high-demand, and able to command wages otherwise impossible for today’s high-school graduates. As one union official explained, “one thing we talk about in the [PLA] is getting the kids and actually putting them in our training program, so in three or four or five years they’re actually a journeyperson, as opposed to just throwing them on the job site for a few months, and then they’re gone, and they don’t learn anything.”