‘Get Richmond Working’ initiative would help eliminate disparities

10/15/2020, 6 p.m.
Seeing construction cranes in Richmond is nothing out of the ordinary, but the ones that appeared in the wake of ...

Seeing construction cranes in Richmond is nothing out of the ordinary, but the ones that appeared in the wake of George Floyd’s death stood out from the rest.

In an emergency order by Mayor Levar M. Stoney, construction cranes literally took figures from Richmond’s Confederate past — Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Matthew Fontaine Maury — down from their pedestals at a time when the nation is fighting to end systemic racism enshrined during the Confederacy once and for all.

Those figures, however, are still memorialized in a system that perpetuates the oppression of nearly half of Richmond. While the city’s population is pretty evenly split between Black and white residents — 47 percent Black and 40 percent white — the number of Black residents in poverty in Richmond is more than double that of white residents — 60 percent to 25 percent.

Removing the constraints that result in such disparity in Richmond’s Black community requires not only the removal of those monuments but the creation of new opportunities. The Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LIUNA, wants to create those opportunities through our “Get Richmond Working” initiative that would train and secure jobs for Richmond residents on city construction projects.

There is no reason that construction jobs should be going outside of Richmond when city residents are unemployed. Developers, City Council members and community organizations share in the responsibility of making sure that construction unites the city and does not further divide it.

Get Richmond Working is inherently inclusive. It is a program for all city residents and requires no prior experience in construction. LIUNA provides the training and eliminates any financial limitations by making the training completely free to its participants.

In 2018, LIUNA proved its training capabilities when local residents graduated from our first Richmond training at a local church. The same training structure would be used now where LIUNA would establish a training program specific to the skills that a developer needs on an upcoming project and then partners with community organizations to host the training.

While on the subject of the developer, it is imperative that the contract also is inclusive by establishing local and minority hiring requirements. Returning citizens are just as much a part of the local workforce as anyone else. Multiple reports find that good jobs help keep men and women from going to or returning to prison. Richmond came in ninth place in a 2018 report from the Brookings Institute on incarceration rates in major cities, and 80 percent of those incarcerated in Richmond were Black. Countering that imbalance with local and minority hiring requirements will provide equal employment opportunities and increase public safety.

A community partnership agreement, or CPA, enforces local and minority hiring requirements as well as other community standards among a project’s contractors and subcontractors. LIUNA advocates for living wages and benefits such as family health care and pensions in CPAs. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Black community has suffered more than others both physically and financially. Unions raise the wages for all workers, and Black workers on average earn 13.7 percent more when represented by unions.

One project in particular with a lot of potential is the former Public Safety Building that was originally part of the proposed Navy Hill development. It includes new office, retail and parking and is valued at $350 million. A CPA on this project would require contractors to hire 90 percent of laborers from within the city of Richmond and include minority-owned and women-owned businesses. Mayor Stoney, as well as City Council members Andreas Addison, Stephanie Lynch and Michael Jones, and City Council candidates Tavarris Spinks, Ann-Frances Lambert and Amy Wentz, already have expressed support for this CPA and others like it.

We cannot change Richmond’s past as the former capital of the Confederacy. We can, however, make sure that our actions in the present shape an equal and just future for Richmond. Our Get Richmond Working initiative is an important part of that future.



The writer is vice president and mid-Atlantic regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LIUNA, that represents about 40,000 workers mostly in the construction industry in Virginia, West Vir- ginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia and North Carolina.