Rochester's Diversity Hiring Goals
Union leader successfully works to diversify his membership while supporting local charities
Across the country, many communities are struggling. Jobs have left, homes are vacant and wages haven’t gone up. This plight is especially felt in many minority communities. For many the path to the middle class seems like a pipe dream, but in Rochester NY, the local building trades council and a local IBEW union are trying to change that.
About a decade ago, Dave Young Jr. the Business Manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 86 and the President of the Rochester Building and Construction Trades Council began setting a hiring goal for his union. The goal was to increase the diversity of the union by recruiting more women and minorities into the union. Through his position on the Trades Council, he was also able negotiate project labor agreements that helped other local trades unions meet these new diversity goals as well. Working with the area’s pre-apprenticeship programs, Young recruited new apprentices from some of the poorest and most economically ravaged areas of Rochester.
Throughout the 1900’s Rochester was a city of innovation. Companies such as Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, Gannett Newspapers and Western Union all were companies that were either founded in Rochester or called the city home. As these companies left, the high paying jobs left as well. Now the city faces a crisis with a quarter of the city living below the poverty line and an average median income of only $31,000. Never has the need been greater for a program that can bring the community out of its downward slide.
A typical trade apprentice enters the program at 18 right out of High School. While learning the trade, the apprentice is not only getting hands on training in a skill they can use for the rest of their lives but they are getting paid. Unlike college, where the payoff from your education takes years, from day 1, apprentices are bringing money back to their community.
For Young, this program is about making the Trades look like the community that they are from. According to the latest Census, Rochester is about 40% white, 40% black and 20% Latino and Asian, yet many of the trades are still overwhelmingly white and male. With a generation of trade unionist retiring, this served as the perfect time to reshape the industry to look like the community. Young said that just within his union they have seen a significant shift in diversity since the program began and it is increasing every year.
Now, working with an IBEW member Karim Berry, who entered Local 86 through the program, the apprentices are giving back to the community. Through a program with Habitat for Humanity, apprentices from the Rochester Building and Construction Trades council will be working on neighborhood revitalization projects. These projects will take the skills that the apprentices learned and bring them back to the communities that they came from to rebuild homes and revitalize their community. Not only is the program creating an economic revitalization in some of Rochester’s poorest communities, they are also using their skills to rebuild them.
Through Rochester’s Diversity Goal program, not only are the building trades being transformed, but so too is the community. Building Trade Apprenticeship programs are allowing a new generation to learn a trade, giving them a path to the middle class and allowing them to reinvest in their community with higher wages and the skills needed to revitalize some of the most blighted areas of Rochester.