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Community News: Southwest

BALDWIN HILLS : Workers Pushing for All-Black Crews

March 07, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

A labor advocacy group that has been shutting down a Korean-operated construction site for not having enough black workers now says it will settle for nothing less than a new, all-black crew.

About 25 members of the Los Angeles Unemployed Council have shut down the site, a swap meet being rebuilt at 87th Street and Broadway, every weekday since Feb. 23.

Last week, Council President Deacon Alexander said general contractor Young Chan had not hired a majority of blacks as subcontractors and construction workers. Chan had offered to hire some blacks, but Alexander described the move as a token gesture. Alexander now says he wants Chan replaced with a contractor who will hire an all-black crew.

John Chan, the site superintendent who was initially dealing with Alexander, was transferred to another work site. He would not comment beyond saying that he had hired a few black subcontractors for the job. General contractor Young Chan declined to comment.

"Dictating policy to the owner is something new and radical, but we really need to control this job with black labor," said Alexander, a carpenter. "Demanding 100% black labor isn't reasonable, but I'm not a reasonable man."

The property owners could not be reached for comment.

Alexander, 46, founded the council after last year's riots as a way of ensuring that blacks received their share of the jobs generated by rebuilding. He called the group the Unemployed Council, he said, because other groups he saw monitoring construction hiring practices didn't have the interests of the unemployed at heart.

The council opened its office on Buckingham Road in the Santa Barbara Plaza last spring. Though the group's priority is getting more construction jobs for blacks, it also refers people to jobs in sales, market research, security and other positions.

The 300-member council includes people from skilled laborers and union workers to ex-gang members who have acquired construction skills under Alexander's tutelage.

The organization claims to have shut down 27 sites for what it perceived as discriminatory hiring practices by contractors, particularly with regard to filling positions with Latinos who may be willing to work for lower wages.

"A union carpenter makes $225 a day, whereas a Latino is willing to work longer hours for less," said Alexander.

Nick Sandoval, president of the Hispanic Contractors Assn., said that although Latinos may work for wages considerably less than union scale, they are not the problem.

"Everybody in the construction business has to divide the pie equally," he said. "We all should be professional about it, and demand jobs based on merit. Strong-arm tactics end up doing more harm than good."

Alexander said the council battles a stereotype among contractors, especially Koreans, that blacks are lazy and likely to "fall down" on the job to collect workers' compensation insurance.

Korean Chamber of Commerce secretary Chaull Huh rejects such race-based perceptions. "The economy is very bad right now, and a lot of companies are not hiring, (but) laying off," he said. "We (Koreans) are trying to have good relationships with the African-American community. We've learned enough lessons from the riots."

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