Opinion: Labor Unions are Essential to Oakland Construction

By Jason Gumataotao---Union labor is not opposed to the development of new housing in Oakland. 

The question is, however, who will benefit from new development? Will it be out-of-town and out-of-state developers? Or will local residents and working families benefit from the construction boom?

East Bay Residents for Responsible Development (EBRRD) is a coalition of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595, Sheet Metal Workers’ Local Union No. 104, Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 and United Association Local Union 342. We represent 500 families in Oakland and 18,000 members in Northern California.

We are not alone. Community organizations and many individuals are concerned that developers are seeking to take advantage of our housing crisis to bring forward projects that do not address the vital issues facing our city.

Developers ask a great deal from our communities. The new residents of their projects use the infrastructure and services that we’ve paid for with our tax dollars. Shouldn’t major corporate developers pay their fair share?

Our members work at the middle-class jobs that are being pushed out of Oakland and the Bay Area. They see fewer opportunities for their children or for disadvantaged workers like ex-offenders looking for an opportunity to turn their lives around.

One of our members, Sadakao, was incarcerated for 15 years but is now a union tradesman making family-sustaining wage. His opportunity came from a workforce development agreement negotiated with the Trades. He was accepted into a Labor Management Apprenticeship program, where he gained college credits and a decent wage while becoming one of the best-trained construction workers in our nation.

Would he have a place in the new Oakland being proposed by out-of-town developers? Not likely; most of the current residential construction projects are employing few, if any, apprentices enrolled in State of California-approved training programs.

We strongly support developments that:

Mitigate environmental impacts;

Hire local workers with family-supporting wages;
Provide workforce housing; and
Employ disadvantaged workers who are finally on a career pathway into the middle class through an apprenticeship program.

Developers who are not committed to these outcomes should take their projects elsewhere.

Oakland is in the midst of an historic building boom. More than 1,400 units of housing are currently under construction. Thousands more have been approved and work will start soon. Three new residential towers have been proposed in the past three months. Several billion dollars in capital is being invested in Oakland right now, because developers know that Oakland is the place to be in the Bay Area.

Who will benefit from this boom? Out of town developers that will take their profits and leave town? Or local residents with middle-class jobs and housing they can afford?

Those are the questions that must be answered.

Jason Gumataotao is a member of IBEW 595 and a supporter of the East Bay Residents for Responsible Development.