Desmond Collins
Desmond Collins holds his book at National Black Contractors Association event. Courtesy of the author

I have worked as a carpenter, tradesmen and master builder for over 25 years and am the author of The Black Carpenters Guide. My book helps Blacks in the construction industry excel in the trade and get on the fast track to success.

The inspiration behind writing the book was the need to inspire, educate, and guide the next generation of Black carpenters. Black people in the trade have been historically overlooked, and often denied opportunities on construction projects.

My book aligns with the mission of the San Diego-based National Black Contractors Association, which I first learned about from a fellow worker on a job site. The BCA helps contractors achieve success by promoting black pride, self-reliance and a strong work ethic.

The BCA and I have a shared vision of uplifting Black contractors through the dignity of hard work and business ownership. But on Friday, the SANDAG board is poised to make a decision that will make this harder.

The board will decide whether to create a Community Benefits Agreement that essentially will determine how $160 billion will be spent over the next three decades — much of it on transportation construction projects. The agreement is supposedly meant to prioritize communities that have been historically marginalized when it comes to construction work. But it’s really an agreement with big labor unions.

What SANDAG is really voting on is a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA, in the guise of inclusion. Under a PLA, a government entity only awards contracts to unionized firms. This leaves contractors in marginalized communities at an automatic disadvantage because they can’t compete against the big union firms.

Many profess “equity and inclusion” while never agreeing to truly dismantle the historic wrongs done toward Black Americans and other people of color. Writing laws to force unionization hurts the Black community because it has been historically marginalized by San Diego’s labor unions .

PLAs have typically excluded apprenticeships like those offered under the BCA. Though the SANDAG agreement will include all apprenticeships approved by the state of California, it specifically excludes non-union programs like ours. It closes the door to apprentices from inner-city neighborhoods.

We are asking SANDAG to reconsider this important concern that we raise. Saying everyone is now included in the work ahead but giving all of these apprenticeship dollars to labor unions only fattens their pockets and weakens urban inner-city programs like ours while creating only the illusion of inclusion.

The National Black Contractors Association must be included in the SANDAG agreement. The dollars involved are critical to our training efforts for Blacks and other construction workers of color in San Diego’s inner city.

Chair Catherine Blakespear, Vice Chair Todd Gloria and the full board must be clear about what “equity” means when voting on Friday. Don’t let Black contractors’ inner-city construction apprenticeship programs die under the guise of community benefits.

Desmond Collins is a member of the National Black Contractors Association and author of The Black Carpenters Guide.