Monday, September 1, 2014

A thought on Labor Day at the construction site

Working in a 24/7 occupation, I have to work this Labor Day. Not that I haven’t become accustomed to it; I haven’t had Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day “off” for the past seven years. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that isn’t anything to “celebrate” on this day. Now, “diversity” apparently means different things to different people. At the airport there a few construction projects being done; one is the light rail “extension”—apparently of another 20 blocks—and a large parcel of about 10 acres is being leveled off, for a not widely known reason. Frankly, this latter project is of no interest or use to me, save in one respect: The composition of its workforce, which seems to be 100 percent white male. 

Well, I did see one “ethnic” female for a couple of weeks, but only just long enough as required to hold up a “slow” and “stop”  sign, and push a broom during the leveling a short stretch. Come to think of it, there were also a half-dozen white females on site at one point. However, I’m not sure the mostly blondes with hardhats were actually construction workers, since I have never seen them do anything except talk, walk around or observe the goings-on. Perhaps it was a female-owned firm, which satisfied any “diversity” requirement of the Port of Seattle—or just Port employees “supervising” the goings-on. But this is a kind of “diversity” that a cynic may call just another version of “white”—hardly meriting the lofty “moral” standards of the term. It seemed to me that the construction firm was just part of the Port’s “good old boy” network.

Now, let’s take another example of “diversity,” this time a rental housing construction in Kent near the public library. Yes, believe it or not, a Seattle firm was contracted to build it that actually practices diversity in its work force. White, black, Latino and Asian workers have all been in evidence during the course of its construction. Perhaps not as diverse as it could be, because I haven’t seen so many female construction workers present; but then again, that isn’t necessarily true of any construction site, either—save for “traffic control.” However, I would be remiss not to note that there are plenty of occupations in which women (or rather, white women) are the “preferred” employee of choice, such as in office occupations and those service jobs that employers believe “require” a public relations gimmick.

True diversity, of course, is thus not exactly a common practice in the construction business. In fact, during the first month or so of work at the Kent site, there were “protesters” present who held-up a banner proclaiming that the contractor was guilty of “unfair” labor practices. I asked one of the project’s construction workers’ what they were protesting about, and he just shrugged and said they were complaining about jobs. So it was not the construction workers on this project who making this complaint; it was white construction workers who thought it “unfair” to them that a contractor was being employed who has the bad manners of practicing the fair employment that it proclaimed of on its website. To the protesters unused to working in a truly diverse occupation, it just didn’t seem “right”—it was “discriminatory” against the status quo in the industry. It just never occurs to them that their racial attitudes are the problem.

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