Opinion: Leading the Way on Pay Equality

By Risi Agbabiaka---Oakland can help ensure pay equity between men and women by pushing more value-based real estate development projects in the city. 

You’ve probably heard the facts before: Women on average make 80 cents for every dollar men make, while white women and Asian women make between 10 to 30 percent more than their African American and Hispanic counterparts.

I am lucky enough to work in an industry that has made great strides in pay equity.  Women in the construction industry tend to make between 90 and 99 percent of what men make in the field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This information doesn’t mean that women doing the same jobs as men are making less, just that when comparing all the salaries of both genders in the field, women make less overall.

An important factor in whether a woman will be paid the same as her male colleagues in the construction industry is if she’s a member of a union. When union representatives negotiate with contractors or developers, they make sure their members with the same skill sets, with the same levels of experience, will be paid the same wages. Workers’ pay is based off job titles and years of experience, not gender.

In fact, women who belong to unions in this country make more than their counterparts who are not organized. Women in unions make on average 91.6 cents for every dollar men make, while their non-organized counterparts make just 81.2 cents, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Unionized women are also more likely to have health insurance and retirement plans than women who are not members of unions.

So what does all this have to do with Oakland? The city is currently a hotbed for real estate development. Sadly, however, few projects are being built with union labor.  Many developers are flat-out refusing to negotiate with unions, and the city government isn’t holding developers accountable because elected officials and government staff members see all building as helping solve the area’s housing crisis. 

In a recent poll conducted by the East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, 52 percent of Oakland residents said that they’d like all new housing in Oakland to provide community benefits, like affordable housing for the middle class and fair pay for workers, even if that means less housing is built overall. 

If residents are serious about their belief that housing should be built with community benefits, and workers should be paid fairly, then they should support union labor on construction projects here in the city. Union workers are the front line fighters for equality in pay, safety, and creating chances to be part of the middle class. Our hard work, sweat and long working hours help build a stronger community. Don't shut us out of helping to rebuild Oakland or any other community.  

Risi Agbabiaka is a Plumbing Apprentice for UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 34.