August 24, 2007

The Public Forum . . . El Foro Publico

I am Latino and I am a Union leader!

In regards to “Are South Bay’s Tax Dollars for Public Projects Providing Opportunity and Benefit for All?” (August 17, 2007), it is true that that there is a proposed Gaylord Convention Center project and that the Sweetwater Union High School District will be refurbishing their schools. Unfortunately, nothing else in Mr. Joshua Ramirez’s political rant is factual.

His main point of contention seems to be that there is no Hispanic representation among the union leadership. Let me take this opportunity to introduce myself and set the record straight. My name is Nicholas J. Segura Jr., President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 San Diego and I am certainly and proudly Latino. I am honored to have been chosen by my fellow union members to serve as President to over 2,400 dedicated and hard working union electrical workers in San Diego and Imperial Counties. I am a proud resident and family man of Chula Vistas Westside. After serving in the U.S Navy and receiving an honorable discharge I was welcomed into the IBEW apprentice program. I have just completed my 15th year as an IBEW journeyman electrician. My current employer is a Latino who owns a union electrical contracting business that employs 40 electricians. He is the immediate Past President of the San Diego Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association and is a current member of their executive board. In fact, you will find Latinos in leadership positions of most, if not all, construction unions.

This is very different from what you find in the leadership of the ABC and AGC, the two main contractors’ associations fighting against workers’ rights in San Diego. The ABC, the organization Mr. Ramirez claimed to be a member of (more on that later), is led by Executive Director George Hawkins, President Greg Roper and Vice-President of Government Affairs Eric Christen. The AGC leadership is Executive Director Jim Ryan, President Tom Anderson and Vice-President of Government Affairs Brad Barnum. To quote Mr. Ramirez, where are the names like Morales, Sanchez or Martinez?

Don’t be confused, it is our union and others like it that are the only ones looking out for the workers. Unions guarantee that their members receive a fair middle-class wage, full-family medical coverage and a guaranteed pension, not to be confused with a 401K. We fight for PLA’s because PLA’s are one way to make sure our voices are heard.

Most importantly, PLA’s support union apprenticeship programs which are without dispute the best and often a model for other training programs. According to the Department of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) our apprenticeship program from 2000-2005 graduated 63% of all apprentices who started the program. If you made it through the first year, that number went up over 90%. 38% of our current apprentices are Latino and 17% are military veterans. Unlike the non-union “programs,” our training is free to the apprentice. By way of contrast, the ABC electrical apprenticeship program, which charges its students, only graduated 28% of its students from 2000-2005. We provide great careers, not just a temporary job.

The bottom line is that the IBEW, my union, has been in existence for well over 100 years because we have always stood up for workers’ rights and the best interest of local communities. We had to, because our members and our leaders live in those communities.

At the end of the day, this goes beyond the ethnicity of workers. It’s about bringing the right development to the bay front — it’s about ensuring that whoever develops the bay front signs a legally-binding document committing to hiring local workers first. Such agreements legally ensure journeymen and apprentice craftsmen—black, white, brown and all ethnicities— receive equal pay and benefits. This is a particularly important sticking point in the Gaylord negotiations since they have a track record of racist policies.

In Maryland’s Prince George’s County, local officials fought to ensure that minority workers played an important role in the development of their convention center. Instead of embracing the minority contract clause, Gaylord largely ignored it and then said that they would rather pay a fine then hire minority-owned businesses. Later, Gaylord officials had the gall to complain that the fines for refusing to work with minority contractors were “unfair.” Since he is not a resident of Chula Vista, it does not surprise me that this essential point is lost on Mr. Ramirez, but as a Latino, I am surprised that he is able to disregard this essential fact.

Nicholas J Segura Jr.
Chula Vista

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