By Takia Hollowell
Ever drive by a construction site and wonder, “Why aren’t very many blacks visible in this industry?” During my lifetime, I’ve heard this question asked quite a bit. I’ve heard the notorious Al Sharpton recently rant against this epidemic and demand that construction sites without blacks be shut down. Even Harry Alford-I of the Black Chamber of Commerce has stated:
“It is more than 44 years since the Civil Rights Act, and the construction trades are no better today than they were during the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
If you’re wondering why jobs of this nature aren’t very prevalent in urban areas, then look no further than to the monstrosity of the Davis-Bacon Act.
The upheaval of the Davis-Bacon Act began in 1927 after a contractor from Alabama secured a bid to build a Veteran’s hospital in Long Island, NY. As it was discovered that the contractor brought black construction workers from Alabama to conduct the work; Representative Robert Bacon was disturbed to see “coloreds” take work away from “white labor” in his district. Being that unions were created to keep blacks out of the workforce during those times, Representative Bacon developed legislation that would force contractors to pay its employees the prevailing/union wage in order to secure a federal contract. (See: US Congress House Committee of Labor, Letter of Ethelbert Stewart, pg 17, March 6, 1930) The intention was to put a stop to black labor from constantly outbidding higher paid white unions in securing federal contracts.
The racist overtone of the legislation was no hidden agenda as Congressman Upshaw openly argued on the House floor, “You will not think that a southern man is more human if he smiles over the fact of your reaction to that real problem you are confronted within any community with a superabundance or large aggression of negro labor.” (Ibid, pg. 3) Fortunately during this time, their efforts failed to regulate the labor industry but the attempts did not stop there.
In Representative Bacon’s relentless pursuit to legalize prevailing white union wages, he joined forces with Senator James Davis in 1931 to garner enough support for the bill to pass. During House floor debates, many other racist arguments surfaced in support of the new act. Congressman Miles Allgood stated: “See, that contractor over there has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.” (See: US House of Representatives, Congressional Record, 71st Congress 3rd Session, 1931, p 6513)
The Davis Bacon Act proved to be detrimental during the Great Depression as “white salaries” were protected from cheaper black labor. Unskilled black workers were almost never admitted into unions and were not able to build a skill set or find employment. From 1931 to the 1950’s, blacks were still barred from the unions of sheet metal workers, plasterers, plumbers, electrical workers, engineers, etc.(See: Herbert Hill, “Racism Within Organized Labor, Journal of Negro Education, 1961, pg. 113)
CONDITIONS OF TODAY
Despite its historical racist intentions and devastating effects on non-unionized minority workers, the Jesse Jacksons and Maxine Waters of today fight tooth and nail to prevent the Act from being repealed. You want to know what is even more disgusting? Many black Democratic leaders are aware of the Act’s discriminatory history yet support it anyway. Economist Walter E. Williams points this out in his short video.
As unions support Democratic candidates with millions of campaign dollars, the elected officials in turn repay their homage by protecting the harmful legislation. Any opposition or attempt to repeal the Davis Bacon Act is demagogued as, “those evil Conservatives are just trying to hurt the middle class.” Nothing can be further from the truth as its repeal would open up the flood gates for non-unionized contractors to bid on school projects, highway projects, military projects, hospital projects and more. Furthermore, its repeal would alleviate “the middle class” from footing the bill for the bloated union wages that the Act requires. Highways and schools don’t pay for themselves; the taxpayer does. While the NAACP and others hold their allegiance to unions, they turn a blind eye to the higher tax burden that YOU are forced to pay as contractors can’t secure bids under the local union wage (also known as “the prevailing wage). Can someone tell me how this helps the “middle class” again?
As of late, Congressman Steve King has introduced legislation (HR 745) to repeal the Act but he still needs our support to revive the issue. The Davis Bacon Act is one of many contributing factors to unemployment being almost double the national average in the black community. I would encourage everyone to write, call or e-mail their Congressman and spread the word of this egregious legislation.