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September 20, 1968 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1968-09-20

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RON LANDSMAN

Blacks an
the Skil
Sure, he's one of;
he a plumber
E ROOTS of America's race problem are not black people's lack of
political representation or legalistic forms of discrimination but
employment inequities-low pay, menial tasks, little or no advancement.
Racism hurts blacks most immediately by denying them meaningful
opportunities to work.
This is not merely underemployment or subemployment. It is an
unequal distribution of jobs which leave for blacks only low-skill, low-pay
' work. Because many blacks .can only see themselves as menials in a
time of rising expectations, it is a source of growing frustration and rage.
The National Advisory (Kerner) Commission on Civil Disorders rec-
ognized the problems of racism in employment. It notes in its report that
"the concentration of male Negro employment at the lowest' end of the
occupational scale . . . is the single most important source of poverty
among Negroes. It is even more important than unemployment."
The economic effect on blacks has been only part of it. At least as
important has been the psychological effect. The commission also notes,
"Access to good-quality jobs clearly affects the willingness of Negro men
to actively seek work." The combination of lack of opportunity and the
black's feeling of futility was usually too much for the average person to
overcome.
The implications for the highest-ranking jobs that don't require a
college education-skilled construction jobs-are serious. The commission
reports that while 20 per cent of whites are employed as "craftsmen and
foremen," only 12 per cent of blacks
are so employed. This creates a dis-
parity within the trades of"great pro- "They dont wan to go through
portions, with blacks comprising less whole thing-the testing and the
than six per cent of "craftsmen and terviews, which take considerable
foremen." fort-if they feel they are going

d

lied

Trades

your best friends. But is
r or an electrician?

the
in-
ef-
to

WASHTENAW COUNTY, with a
slightly higher percentage of
blacks than the country as a whole, is
at least as guilty as the typical area
in'denying to blacks opportunities in
the skilled trades.
The electricians' union in Wash-
tenaw County has exactly two black
apprentices-both joined in the last
nine months-and no black journey-
men-out of over 200 members.
The plumbers' union, over three
times as large, also has two blacks,
both journeymen, and no black ap-
prentices.
Whether or not 'this constitutes
discrimination is a point of conten-
tion between the unions and local
civil rights organizations. The unions
say they'd welcome qualified Negroes
into their ranks and apprenticeship
training programs. The civil rights
groups are more than a little-skepti-
cal of that claim.
"I wish 25 colored journeymen
plumbers would walk in here right
now," says Jack Wheately, plumbers
and pipe-fitters business agent and
president of the Washtenaw County
Buildings Trades Council (WCBTC).
"I'd tear the door down to get them
to come in here and apply..
"We'll never be able 'to convince
anyone that we've made strides in
race relations, which we have," he
says. "We want qualified colored to
join so we can show this union
doesn't discriminate."
Robert Hunter, assistant director
of the city's Human Relations Com-
mission, disagrees strongly. "They
have a past history of discrimination.
They have no blacks now,' he says.
"One can only assume that there is
a facade concerning the open, door
policy they now employ.
Wheately and other spokesmen for
the electricians' and plumbers' un-
ions say they are not discriminatory
and are more than willing to take
qualified blacks.
Hunter and representatives of
other civil rights organizations say
the unions are obligated to make up
for past errors by means of positive
action for getting blacks into their
unions.
Wheately and James Clark of the
M i c h i g a n Employment Securities
Commission, among others, note the
difficulty the two unions face in get-
ting blacks even to apply for their
training programs, let alone to com-
plete them and to become journey-
men.
"We began our apprenticeship pro-
grai in 1937," Wheately says, "and
the first Negro ever to apply came
last December. I've been to the high
school and the school board to sell
the union program, but we can't con-
vince the Negro community that we
don't discriminate."
Hunter, looking at the situation
.- + . viw nn(mint Iacp+a the "

get turned down because they are
black anyways," he explains.
Albert Wheeler, chairman of the
Michigan chapter of the National As-
sociation for the Advancement of
Colored People, agrees with Hunter.
The local NAACP, which has worked
with the HRC occasionally in trying
to get blacks into the apprenticeship
programs, has found the unions "al-
most totally non-cooperative."
The problem is confused because of
the distinction between a legally valid
"open-door policy"-under which the
unions anow operate-and "affirma-
tive action" - programs which at-
tempt to cope with the current socio-
economic situation and the unions'
history of discrimination.
The current open-door policy is
one which the unions were forced to
accept as a result of the federal Civil
Rights Act of 1964. That law outlawed
discrimination at any level in the
testing, hiring or training of pros-
pective apprentices and journeymen,
and entrusted to the Bureau of Ap-
prenticeship and Training (BAT) of
the U.S. Department of Labor the re-
sponsibility for insuring non-discrim-
ination.
BAT spokesmen insist the unions
are not discriminatory. One spokes-
man for the bureau explains, "We
look very closely in approving ap-
prentice training programs and at
possible discriminatory practices un-
der Title 29 of the 1964 Civil Rights

" He must be 18-25 years old (an
extension is made for military serv-
ice);
" He must pass an aptitude test,
often given by the local high school
(as Ann Arbor does) or by a private
testing agency);
A His physical condition must be
good, and
* He must pass an interview with
representatives of the union and con-
struction contractors.
The actual admission procedure in-
cludes the test, a review of the objec-
tive qualifications (high school
diploma and age requirements) and
an inteview with the joint appren-
ticeship committee, which runs the
entire program and decides who is to
be taken.
The joint apprenticeship commit-
tees usually consist of six members,
three each representing the contrac-
tors and the unions. They devise the
training program, with BAT approval,
oversee its actual operation and con-
duct the oral interviews with prospec-
tive apprentices.
The Civil Rights Act requires that
the subjective part, the interview,
not be a major part of the test. It
usually controls 25 to 30 per cent of
the decision.
The sore points, in the eyes of civil
rights leaders, are the aptitude tests
and the interview.
The interview with the joint com-
mittee concerns attitude - the ap-
plicant should be serious about the
union and very determined to join-
appearance, honesty and willingness
to undertake the apprenticeship
training.
Hunter finds these interviews most
distasteful and an obvious way to
continue discrimination.
"Do black people automaticaly look
dishonest to a white selection board,"
he asks rhetorically, "Is an appli-
cant's appearance unacceptable if his
skin is black? I think there's more
than a little justification of why
blacks are distrustful.'
While the oral interviews are a
sore point, the testing practices and
procedures have been the object of
more study and stronger conflict be-
tween the unions and civil rights
groups.
Thetests vary but they are usually
of the aptitude and ability type. They
include verbal and numerical abil-
ity, spatial perception and mechani-
cal comprehension and adaptability,
tests reasonably common to many
hiring agencies in both the skilled
trades and industry.
Most of the blacks who take these
tests do not pass or do not score
high enough in their group to get
into a program. By percentage, blacks
who take the tests do much worse
than whites.
The most common solution, and
one which has worked in significant
cases, has been the establishment of
pre-apprenticeship training pro-
grams. These are, in essence, short,
intense courses which prepare blacks
or other minority group members for
what he will face on the tests-tutor-
ing in what the tests cover.
The most notable success has been
in New York, where the Workers De-
fense League, now a part of the A.
Philip Randolph Institute, and fund-
ed by the Labor Department, runs
such a training program. The pro-
gram helps blacks all along the path
to becoming a journeyman in a
skilled trade: it recruits through ad-
vertising and direct contact, in

schools, helps individuals collect the
necessary papers such as birth certi-
ficates, and to prepare forms, and
then tutors them for the test.
Finally, it conducts a major follow-
up program to see that their people
stay in the program.
The program, according to the
Training Institute director, Maizie
Fulton, has been "quite successful."
It's placed over 600 blacks in p r o -
grams in the last four years, she says,
and hense of follow-un wirk has a

early this year. Out of 20 blacks ori-
ginally interested, only two met all
the requirements of the electricians'
union and they worked witht Mrs.
Eckstein and Mrs. Munro. One is now
an apprentice and the other, ,also ,a
member, currently in the Army. They
are the only two blacks in the union.
"These are only crumbs," Hunter
says, "but it was certainly a positive
step." While Mrs. Fulton of the WDL
reports that there is a rapport devel-
oping with the unions in New York,
relations are not so cordial h e r e .
Wheeler says the union was "entirely
un-cooperative" with the HRC in its
attempt to place blacks as appren-
tices.
Dean Combs, business agent for the
electricians, explains his union's view
of the HRC action.
"That's tutoring," he, says. "Why
should we go out and tutor someone
if we've already got 50 guys who know
the stuff. They went out and learned
it while these other guys sat on their
Getting blacks into the skilled
trades, especially the electricians and
plumbers, is a national problem as
well as a local one, and the interna-
tional unions have expressed them-
selves on the issue. The phrase they
use for the pre-apprenticeship train-
ing program is "affirmative action"
and they have come out, strongly for
it.
Although "affirmative action" is
the the official policy of the interna-
tional, locals need not necessarily fol-
low it. As for the effect of the inter-
national on local unions, he said it
operates "mostly by persuasion. We
cant do much against the locals ex-

-Daily-Andy ,Sacks

Clyde Briggs, manager of training
and counseling in the personnel of-
fice, notes that it is much more diffi-
cult to find qualified blacks for skill-
ed than semi- or unskilled positions.
His recruiting attempts to find blacks
both for skilled trades and various
low-level administrative and clerical
positions have taken him to various
Southern Negro colleges and trade
schools as well as out-of-state un-
ions. And these attempts, he admits,
have not been very successful. He at-
tributes it partly at least to the tre-
mendous demand from institutions
like the University to get these same
qualified blacks. Everyone is compe-
ting for them now and the recruit-
ment, he notes, is often far from ethi-
cal.
The apprenticeship program is re-
ally the most sensitive point, though,
because it is there that the Univer-
sity can do the most good-and has

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"The electricians' union in Washtenaw
County has exactly two black apprentices
.* *and no black journeymen out of 200
members. The plumbers' union, over
three times as large, also has two blacks,

both journeymen .

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cept in cases of outright 'closed-door'
discrimination."
In Washtenaw County the electri-
cians and plumbers are considered
by many sources the most discrimin-
atory skilled trades, while certain
others-most notably the carpenters
and the trowel trades-have much
better reputations. There are now sig-
nificant numbers of blacks in both of
these unions and there have been
for ten or twenty years.
"The carpenters are very receptive
to minority group applicants," Clark
of the MESC says, "They are willing
to take more than they can get." He
cites a recent recruitment drive by
the carpenters which netted eight
blacks out of over 40 applicants. Al-
though below expectations, it was
penters had ever done. "They turned
over an awful lot of stones to get
even that many," Clark says.
Hunter shares Clark's approval of
the carpenters' work in race relations.
"I've never had any trouble placing
a black in the carpenters' union," he
says. /
In the clash and action between
the HRC and NAACP on one hand,
and the building trades on the other,
there is another force that is impor-
tant in long-term race relations be-
tween the two factions-the Univer-
sity.
The University is important not on-
ly as a maj or employer for its own
plant department - there are 200
skilled employees there - and as a
major source of work for contractors
- some $75 million in construction
is being done for the University now
- but as the organizer of an appren-
ticeship training program of its own.
Despite full-time attempts to get
more blacks on the University's non-
academic staff, the University's rec-
ord is hardly better than the unions.
Out of 211 skilled tradesmen the Uni-

failed to produce any significant re-
sults at all. And the reason is essen-
tially the same for the University as
for the unions: too difficult entrance
requirements, which Negroes . have
j ust been unable to pass.
The University's program is cur-
rently in limbo pending the outcome
of contract negotiations between the
University and the building trades
council. Both groups originally sought
complete jurisdiction over the ap-
prenticeship program, including both
training and selection of members.
However, sources within the admin-
istration indicate that the union
seems to be willing for this contract,
at lease, to let the University con-
tinue to run its own program.
Although the University has de-
clared its intentions about recruiting
blacks, its approach is still a very
pragmatic, self-serving one. The mo-
tivation, Briggs admits, has largely
come from the impetus of pressure
from the federal government and ci-
vil rights groups. Besides the Defense
Department report citing the Univer-
sity for discrimination, there is a
general pressure from the govern-;
m'ent and from local rights groups
for the University to hire more Ne-
groes.
However, the University is hiring
or training blacks only within the
bounds of its own needs, not the
community's. Russell Reister, Univer-
sity personnel officer, says the ex-
pansion of the training program,
which will probably take place after
negotiations end, depends solely on
the University's needs.. Thus, if an
investigation being conducted now
shows that only a few openings will
be made available in the next few
years, the program might take only,
five or six new members.
Prompting from civil rights groups
is not alwavs suhtleo r friendlv. and

sity to halt construction because of
the lily-white pattern in some of the
trades.
Such a move would be based on a
similar drive in Ohio which halted
construction on a medical building at
Ohio State University and cost close
to, $1,000,000 in increased costs and
delays. The Columbus, Ohio, NAACP
sought and won an injunction against
state officials from-a 5th district fed-
eral court enjoining them from en-
tering into contracts with builders
who hired only from unions which
were discriminatory.
Judge Joseph Kinneary ruled that
while the 14th Amendment did not
apply to private individuals, it was
applacable to government institutions
in any contracts they entered Into.
And in a final, strongly-worded in-
junctive clause, he told the state of-
ficials what could be done.
The state, he ruled, "may enter in-
to contracts with persons who will
obligate themselves . . . to secure a
labor force only from sources that
will reasonably insure equal job op-
portunities to all qualified persons,
including journeymen and apprentice
craftsmen and laborers, without re-
gard to race, color or membership or
non-membership in a labor union."
Wheeler said he found the paralells
between the case at OSU and the pos-
sibilities here as encouraging and
that his group is seriously consider-
ing similar legal action.
The pattern of discrimination in
some of the skilled trades poses a
depressing and frustrating problem.
And it is a problem that will prob-
ably not be solved from within. Even
where the, liberal rhetoric is present,
such as among the plumbers, there
seems to be little reason to believe
they will make any serious effort to
right the wrongs of their previous
discriminatory practices. And where
they refuse even to sound concilia-
tory, such as at the electricians, even
vicious and unbending opposition can
be expected.
The University can do much by
changing its own apprenticeship pro-
gram. Started because of a critical
shortage of skilled tradesmen in the
county, which is a result of the un-
ions' own practice of restricting its
supply to keep wages up, the training
program could more than offset the
unions' practices by literally pouring
trained black tradesmen into the
market. Although intended so far
only to serve the University's needs,
there is no reason why it could not
be significantly expanded to serve
the entire community.
But, even the University's own pro-
gran shows the same reluctance to
make any efforto to signficantlyxaf-
fect the pattern, if not the practice,
of discrimination in the skilled
trades.
/ Hunter talks of the creation of -a
separate black skilled trades organi-
zation, which may be the only way
to alleviate the situation. No planning
has yet been undertaken, though, and
the obstacles, involved would place
such a program quite a few years in-
to the future.
Hunter also speaks bitterly, but ac-
curately, of the University's role.
"Great institutions have an amazing
ability to verbalize their concerns
about their community's problems."

f{":rfa. .< a :".. ' Gnu .n : 'r7 J. r. ,

Act. It is a must of any program that
these non - discriminatory require-
ments be met."
This requires, hie says, a statement
of equal opportunity in the selection
of apprentices by 'an accepted test-
ing procedure. Qualifications must
be objective, not subjective, and tests
are randomly checked to see that '
grading is fair.
But even with the legalistic bar-
riers of discrimination overcome,
there still remain roadblocks to Ne-
groes who want to join the unions,
new roadblocks which seem as insur-
mountable as the old ones.
The key word to this difficulty is
"qualifications." The barriers are the
various intelligence and aptitude
tests these unions require for en-
trance into their training programs.
The requirements for admittance

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