By Michael Theriault, Secretary-Treasurer
The Building Trades in San Francisco are more racially and ethnically diverse than ever. Even so, our ranks are still far from reflecting the composition of the City. We fool ourselves if we think we can protect our work and wages from those who want us to build less or those who want us to build for less if we do not look more like the place that employs us.
We fall farthest from reflecting the City in having so few women among us. As thoroughly as we have reconstituted ourselves in recent years, our percentage of women remains in low single digits.
The City’s own reports on the performance of the Local Hire Ordinance for 2011-12 and 2012-13 are instructive in this regard.
The report for 2011-12 shows minorities performing 81% of work under the ordinance and Caucasians 19%. These numbers hold whether overall workforce is considered or only San Francisco workers; the sole difference is that Asian- and African-Americans form a higher percentage of City resident workers, while the percentage of Latino workers declines between the overall workforce and City-resident workforce from 66% to 46%.
Trends in the 2012-13 report depart only slightly from this. Minorities form 72% of the overall workforce, 80% of the City-resident workforce. Latino workforce participation declines from 54% overall to 43% of City residents.
Both reports, however, show almost negligible percentages of women. In 2011-12, women overall performed not quite 0.7% of the work, in 2012-13 1.4%. The percentages improve slightly when only San Francisco residents are considered, to 1.8% in 2011-12 and 3.4% in 2012-13. Actual numbers of City resident women in both reports are low enough that we can probably account for them primarily by success of the CityBuild pre-apprenticeship program, which this column has supported since its inception.
While the old Building Trades pattern of white male exclusion of minorities, then, has been largely – even if not absolutely – superseded by a new, more complex reality, we still appear to exclude women.
We and the City can take many practical steps yet toward enrolling and supporting women in the Trades. We can target pre-apprenticeship programs primarily at women, as does a recent Iron Workers multi-trades welding program. We can insist that existing pre-apprenticeship programs target specific numbers of female apprenticeship candidates, as the Carpenters have done at John O’Connell High School. I have advocated for years for childcare programs with construction hours, which would benefit many men as well. We can ask successful Tradeswomen to serve as recruiters and mentors.
Given the high immigrant participation in our workforce, we can tailor recruitment to women in communities where their employment in construction is even less common than in ours, and do so in their languages and through ethnic media.
But this will not be enough. In conversations at this April’s Women Building California and the Nation conference, I came to understand that even in the Trades’ more diverse present workforce harassment of various kinds persists, as well as a more subtle form of discrimination, that of not being as helpful and cooperative toward women as toward men.
Any of us knows the difference between hardass and harass. It is one thing for a foreman or coworker to be an equal-opportunity screamer, another entirely that he make demands or criticisms based not on job performance, but on the gender, race, or ethnicity of an individual or group.
Each of us has a part in stopping harassment.
If a foreman sees harassment in the crew, the foreman must direct it to stop; if it persists, the foreman must be willing to fire harassers, no matter how good their work.
If we see a coworker harassed, we must report this to our foreman. If the foreman does nothing, or is himself the harasser, we must report it to our union representative and be willing to testify on the harassment if the union asks us.
Union representatives, once alerted to possible harassment, must investigate exhaustively and, if they find cause, take every action available through contract or law to end it.
Women themselves, while not sharing blame for harassment, must recognize that it will continue unless confronted, and that actions a union representative needs to take to end harassment can rarely succeed without the victim’s cooperation.
As to that more insidious discrimination of uncooperativeness, we must all recognize that we are less productive if we do not share help and knowledge on all parts, and that productivity is key to our success as unionized Trades in the face of constant non-union competition.
I don’t mean to preach, but…. Well, yes, I mean to preach, and with good reason.
More than half the population is female, and about half the electorate. In this City, as elsewhere, our work and the extent to which it remains union depend in great degree on voters and the politicians who claim to serve them. The longer that half the voters see there is little in the Trades for them, the harder it becomes to get from the political process what we need.
Bringing women into the Trades and sustaining them here is not only just, then, it’s solid necessity.