A new hospitality training program in Boston looks to help African-American industry workers get opportunities in an industry now dominated by immigrants. It is all part of an effort by Unite Here Local 26, the hospitality workers’ union, to attract the African-American community for good paying positions that offer benefits.
The industry wants to entice more workers who are fluent in English. Prior to this initiative, among students who took classes at the union’s hospitality training center, just 16 percent spoke English as a native language.
“It is also part of a broader movement among local unions to add more people of color to their ranks and help address high rates of joblessness in minority and low-income communities,” reports The Boston Globe.
Unemployment among Blacks in the state was 10.6 percent in 2013, versus 6.6 percent for Whites, and seven percent for all workers, according to the Labor Department. And overall the rate has since fallen. Almost a quarter of Bostonians are Black, according to the 2010 Census.
From the outside it seems like a great initiative. Those who graduate from the program can get union hotel jobs that start at around $18 an hour as well as low-cost health care, paid vacation and sick time, pensions and 401(k)s, and access to housing and legal services. And there is proven room for advancement as about a third of union members climb their way up to positions paying more than $60,000 a year, says Local 26. Recruits must go through three interviews and drug testing just to be considered.
The union is looking to broaden the program even more and has applied for a city grant to expand the four-week training program, which is free for participants but costs the union $3,600 to $4,200 per person.
Local 26 isn’t alone in such a program. The Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District, an umbrella organization of 20 local unions, launched the Building Pathways pre-apprenticeship program three years ago. The aim of the program is to get more women and minorities into plumbing, painting, and other construction trades. And the carpenters’ union teamed up with the Urban League to recruit people of color for its apprenticeship program, and the property service workers’ union, composed mainly of Latino janitors, reached out to African-American communities to unionize security guards.
“It’s clearly important to have a union, an association that represents working class people, to be represented by all people – men, women, people of color,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston, who created the building trades program when he was leader of the council. “It’s important to represent and reflect what a particular city might look like.”