Gamaliel Calls for Better Access To Federal Contract Jobs on 49th Anniversary

Posted by: Gordon on 9/23/2014
Today, a federal policy ensuring access to taxpayer-funded work for all Americans turns 49 years old. Faith leaders in the Gamaliel community-organizing network and its campaign arm Transportation Equity Network plan a series of actions to highlight the fact that, if we want to have something to celebrate when the policy turns 50 next year, the Obama Administration has some serious catching up to do.
Most people know affirmative action as a debate that has raged in courtrooms across the country, but a similar policy applies to a body of regulatory orders and policies that begin with a presidential order by Lyndon Johnson Sept. 24, 1965 under which  the Department of Labor regulates hiring at companies with federal construction contracts for infrastructure and other projects. Prioritized for updating four years ago, those numbers remain stuck in the past. In fact, they were last updated in 1980.
“These numbers are out-of-date by more than three decades,” says Irma Wallace, who is national co-chair of the Gamaliel jobs campaign and a leader with Faith Coalition for the Common Good in Springfield, Ill. “At the same time, our communities have changed:  more women are in the workforce, especially in construction careers, and the minority population has increased.”
In Chicago for example, where people of color made up 19.6 percent of the workforce in 1980, now they make up 30.75 percent (based on 2010 American Community Survey population estimates). In Milwaukee, people of color were 8 percent of the workforce in 1980, but 20.91 percent now. Changes in some communities have been less dramatic—St. Louis went from 14.7 percent to 20.7 percent, for example. But in Springfield, Ill., the share of people of color in the workforce tripled, from 4.5 percent of the workforce to 13.6 percent.

A briefing paper on the impact of the numbers in selected communities and how the numbers were calculated is available here.

Meanwhile, the need for access to these jobs is huge. Women make up only 2.6 percent of construction workers (this is even lower than the goal in the executive order). African Americans continue to be unemployed at rate of 2.2 times their white counterparts; at the end of 2013, average U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, the unemployment rate for white Americans was 5.9 percent, and the unemployment rate for African-Americans was 11.9 percent.

Gamaliel and Transportation Equity Network have long called for increased infrastructure investment across the country, and negotiated dozens of local community benefit agreements to foster hiring and job-training for women and people of color.

Groups that will be taking action on this issue in the next few weeks include Faith Coalition for the Common Good; Gamaliel of Metro Chicago; MICAH in Milwaukee, WI; MORE2 in Kansas City, KS and MO; North Bay Organizing Project in Sonoma, CA, and United Congregations of Metro East in East St. Louis, IL.

Download the backgrounder with updated numbers for select cities
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