Black union fights for jobs

When the “Plan B” projects; Heinz Field, PNC Park and The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, were under construction a decade ago, African American Workers Union President Calvin Clinton was among those arrested for picketing the job site and protesting the lack of Black labor.

Now, Clinton and board members Calvin Hughey and Rev. Alfred Brown told the New Pittsburgh Courier, that after nearly a decade spent fighting a charge that it misappropriated Allegheny County funds, which they have now been cleared of, the AAWU is back to picket and protest construction projects again that have no requirement to hire African-American workers, after being cleared of the charges.

BACK IN THE BATTLE—African American Workers Union President Calvin Clinton said after nearly a decade of working to restore the union’s name after unproven charges of fraud were finally dropped, he will do whatever is needed to get Black laborers a chance to build careers. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

“History here in Pittsburgh is that Blacks are always on the curb, it’s institutionalized racism” Clinton said. “We are the institutional response. More than 90 percent of our construction members are 26 or younger. Instead of a drug trade our young people can have a skilled trade.”

The AAWU’s earlier attempts to fully integrate the area’s union labor force were derailed in 2002 when Clinton was accused of hiring “phantom” employees and misappropriating funds related to a contract to give building trades training to residents of Allegheny County public housing plans.

Reverend Brown said the AAWU has the largest minority labor force in the county, is fully certified, and fully trained.

Clinton said the charges were retaliation for the AAWU not taking a $1 million Plan B pre-apprenticeship contract to train people for AFL-CIO affiliated union jobs.

“They accused us of stealing $40,000 when we’d already turned down a $1 million bribe? Come on,” he said. “We couldn’t even find anything out because the FBI doesn’t talk about investigations. Well, they don’t tell you when they’re over either. In 2008, we found out the investigation, and the charges had been dropped—three years earlier. We had to file a FOIA request to get that documentation.”

Hughey agreed the action was intentional.

“It’s no secret what they are trying to do,” he said. “The question is why are we systematically excluded, with the city, county, and institutions ignoring us.”

Now Clinton is working to see that current construction projects, especially those in Black neighborhoods or designed to benefit African-Americans workers. These include the new Penn Hills high school, the Hill District Shop ‘n Save, and the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center at Community College of Allegheny County.

“That’s what we’re focused on now. In June, we got a call from President Alex Johnson where he promised us a meeting. That never happened,” said Clinton. “How can, ‘labor issues be resolved,’ as Board Chairman Bill Robinson said, if we’ve never met with them?”

David Hoovler, CCAC spokesman, said Johnson had promised a meeting, but following a lawsuit filed by the Associated Building Contractors to void a union-only Project Labor Agreement, CCAC attorneys said no meeting should be held with anyone pending the disposition of the suit.

“We will be reissuing the bid packages for the Irvis center, perhaps as soon as today,” he said. “I can’t go into great detail, but I can say we’ve increased the number of prime contractors from five to 12. That will increase opportunities for minority firms, who might not have the bonding for the larger contracts to get in and get experience as a prime. We’ve also added the AAWU to the list of potential contractors, so they’ll receive the package.”

Clinton repeated that the AAWU deserves the same respect given the other unions and the non-union Allied Building Contractors—and they plan to earn it.

“We’ll picket the site if we have to,” said Clinton. “CCAC is using federal and state funds, and they are obligated to do so in a non-discriminatory way.”

The AAWU will hold a petition and membership drive Feb. 19 at all Carnegie Library branches between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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