The "Spanish Imposition" Hits San Diego

The immigration issue in the construction industry in San Diego is something that is on the minds of everyone that is in the construction industry. This is also true in Los Angeles as well and many other parts of the country. .


Union Ironworkers have about 35% to 40% Hispanics working in our trade today. Union Ironworkers have a pretty decent market share of union construction in San Diego. However, we do not control the housing, tilt-up, and metal building markets in the San Diego area.

The union ironworkers are doing around 95% of the high-rise condos and hotels that are being built in downtown San Diego. We have had a Project Labor Agreement on Petco Park and we have three more 30-story buildings that will be built under a PLA. There are some other non-union jobs in the downtown San Diego area--small retrofits and some smaller miscellaneous iron work. The majority of the non-union work in the area is primarily being performed by Hispanics. Those that work in the downtown area usually are earning a better wage than Hispanics working in the housing or tilt-up markets. Hispanics that are working in downtown are usually getting treated better because of the strong union influence on the majority of the buildings.

The housing market is probably the one market that we have maybe 1% to 10% of the market share. This market is controlled by several non-union companies that hire primarily Hispanics and pay them anywhere from $13 to $20 an hour. In order to make $20 an hour you will have worked at the company for 5 to 6 years or more. Most of the companies do not have any benefits that are offered to them either. The tilt-up and metal buildings do not have much more success than the housing market.

Because the wages are so low it is very hard for us to try and get an in on these markets. We have a local that is designed specifically for these markets but none of the non-union companies think that it will benefit them right now.

The Hispanic immigrants are the one culture that is bringing down the standards that the unions have built for over a hundred years. They are willing to get paid far less than a union worker. By earning $10 an hour or less they are able to survive and send money back to their families that still live somewhere in Mexico. Living in San Diego, earning $10 an hour, one could barely earn enough to live in a small apartment.

One of the issues with Hispanics in are area is that most of them know how to work hard, that is probably the only thing that they know how to do. Many of the Hispanics are uneducated and probably illiterate at the same time. I bet that a large number of the Hispanics are illegal immigrants as well. Good portions of the Hispanics are at the mercy of the white employer because they have no where else to turn to except the construction industry.

The employer knows that and in turn takes full advantage of it. The bottom line is that the immigrants are here to stay and we have to deal with them. I would like to see that we have some type of marketing campaign that would help educate them about the unions and let them know that they could be earning much more than they are right now and be considered a part of a union instead being taken advantage of by a white employer

Jerome Thomas is an ironworkers union marketing
representative in San Diego, Calif.

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