October 10, 2016

Black workers' centers springing up

Yes Magazine - The D.C. Black Workers Center, established two years ago,... helps to build economic empowerment for African Americans in the city. Located in the United Black Fund building, which houses Black nonprofits, the D.C. Center takes a unique approach to its job-training services by addressing the twofold crises of high unemployment among Black workers and the low wages they’re paid when they do find work. It is one of eight African American worker centers nationwide. The other centers are located in Los Angeles, Chicago, Oakland, Calif., Greenville, Miss., Boston, and Raleigh-Rocky Mount, N.C. A center in Baltimore is opening soon.
The National Black Workers Center Project, a national network that supports all of the centers, is working to shift the narrative on African American unemployment, which is 8.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—nearly double that of Whites. Steven Pitts, a board member at The Project, says that Black workers need to organize because they lack the power to influence public policy and attain economic freedom. He says it’s the fundamental reason for high unemployment and low-wage positions, what he calls the Black job crisis.

The National Black Workers Center Project drew inspiration from immigrant centers that cropped up in the 1990s to offer legal services and advocacy for the influx of Latin American and Asian immigrants. In a similar fashion, the Black Workers centers use a member-led structure to address the unique challenges facing African American workers—namely racial prejudice, discriminatory hiring practices, and the disproportionately high incarceration rate. “You build the most power when people are actively participating in shaping their own lives,” says Pitts.

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