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Raymin on Standing Together (By Danny Harris)

by Prince Of Petworth February 24, 2010 at 11:00 am 8 Comments


Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

“I’m 33. I was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the U.S. in December 1983. My family first came to New York and then we settled in Hyattsville, Maryland. I have been doing construction since I left high school in 1995. I did general labor, demolition, asbestos removal, whatever. Being out there in the field, I was exposed to a lot of the injustices that people in the work force deal with, things like poor or no pay and mistreatment. I am fortunate because I am bilingual, so I could speak up for co-workers who didn’t speak the language. There were a few times when I would be let go for speaking up, but the way I look at it, I am not going to let anyone disrespect me or my co-workers.

“My whole time in construction, I was never in a union. I don’t have a pension or insurance, none of that. With my health, I always just crossed my fingers. I got hurt a few times and always had to pay out of pocket. Back then, I didn’t know about the unions. It’s not like contractors were telling us about our rights. Their bottom line was making money. The last thing many of them wanted was for us to have the knowledge that if we joined with our co-workers, we could have what they had — a contract. No job gets done in this city without a contract, yet we never had one. Part of that may be that union density in D.C. is not like New York. Here, there isn’t that mentality where your Dad and Granddad were in the union.

“When I was given the opportunity be an organizer, I said, ‘Heck, yeah.’ Now I’m able to give back. I spend a lot of my time in the field talking with people. I have been in their shoes, so I know how to relate to them. I think that it’s important to even the playing field. If you want your community to thrive, you need to give your community the resources and options. Without options, people unfortunately turn to other means. Continues after the jump.

“With Small businesses, Minority contractors, and Advocates for Reform Today (SMART DC), we represent workers, whether they are black, Hispanic or white. The problem is usually the contractors who aren’t held accountable. A lot of these construction companies get a contract and claim to want to boost the local economy and hire local labor, but we find that many of them get the contract and pull out the rug from under D.C. workers. Right now, one of our projects is holding Clark Construction accountable for their development of the new Homeland Security building in the old Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Ward 8. Each project and contract is different, but there are terms that discuss the percentage of local workers to be employed. A lot of times, though, these contractors sub the work out to people in Maryland or Virginia instead of hiring directly from here. In the past, part of the reason was that some companies hired undocumented workers and brought them to construction sites. Look, if the contract said hire D.C. residents, hire D.C. residents. There are plenty of folks here who want to work; they just need an opportunity to do so. As a community, we need to stand together on this.”

Learn more about SMART DC, including their work to bring more jobs to D.C. residents, here.

  • Mal

    Great article, as usual. I love the “if the contract said hire D.C. residents, hire D.C. residents” part. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? Amazing that people don’t follow that.

    Glad you are bilingual – it’s awesome that you stood up for your co-workers who couldn’t understand that they were being used.

  • AJL

    Thanks for sharing – I found this enlightening. I have a vague sense of these injustices, but posts like this really bring it to light for me. Congrats to Raymin for bettering the lives of fellow workers.

  • ex rowhouse condo dweller

    Drop a Billy Bragg soundtrack on this one, POP. Love the solidarity.

  • Bloomingdale

    Hiring DC residents sounds nice, but often doesn’t work out in practice. There was a Washington Post article last year about this issue WRT the baseball stadium. The contractor apparently tried to hire local DC residents (which was a contract requirement), but after a couple of days of hard work most wouldn’t come back. Apparently standing around on the street corner was preferable to manual labor. Plus, construction requires specific skills – which most unemployed DC residents don’t have. As a taxpayer, I’d rather outsource the labor to folks from the ‘burbs who know what they’re doing, rather than run a construction site like a welfare program.

  • Ragged Dog

    Unions, like everything, are a mixed bag. Witness: the transportation union under WMATA representing people who are completely unwilling to drive a bus without using their cell phone. When a union cleans it’s own house, then I will be impressed.

  • PR

    I’m all for workers rights and justice but there is another side to these stories. A friend of mine is a supervisor at a cleaning company. They used to have a contract with FedEx field and were required to hire at least 50% of their workforce from the unions. He says a crew of 2 non-union workers would do more work than a crew of 5 unionized workers.

  • ColHeights1

    Thanks for the great story! Unions do work for workers and I am happy to see those that fight for justice for DC workers included as part of the fabric of our city and neighborhood!

  • JohnGalt

    In school I was taught that unions were BAD. In the real world, it seems to be a mixed bag. While unions are bad in some cases, corporations are just as bad if not worse in almost all cases. Give a corporation an inch to make a profit and it will take a mile. So how do you weigh the goal of the unions versus the goals of the corporations? And where does the benefit to society come into play?


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