Earlier in June, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Chair Charlotte A. Burrows issued a report titled, “Building For The Future: Advancing Equal Employment Opportunity in the Construction Industry.” It provides findings and next steps based on the agency’s enforcement experience, witness testimony presented at the EEOC’s May 2021 hearing on discrimination and harassment in construction and other Commission hearings, and academic research.
The EEOC is the primary federal agency charged by Congress with enforcing the nation’s workplace civil rights laws.
The report notes, “The Commission’s focus on construction is particularly urgent now for several reasons. First, construction is one of the country’s largest industries and it continues to grow. Employment in construction and extraction occupations is projected to increase 4% from 2021 to 2031, which translates to about 252,900 new jobs expected over the decade. In total, more than 720,000 job openings are projected each year on average due to industry growth and the need to replace workers who retire or leave the industry.”
In addition, the report mentions how construction has long been a pathway to the middle class, especially for workers without a college degree. Kenneth Simonson, Chief Economist of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), testified on this before the Commission, noting, “(c)ountless owners, executives, and senior managers of construction firms have worked their way up or started their own firms after entering the industry at the lowest rung.”
The report determines that, “Leveling the playing field for people of all backgrounds seeking to enter the industry and fostering safe, welcoming, and inclusive work environments will help ensure that careers in construction are open to all.”
Another reason for this report is the fact that the construction sector has benefited from an influx of significant taxpayer dollars. The report notes, “As a taxpayer-funded agency that represents all the nation’s people, the EEOC should devote particular attention to industries like construction where public dollars are at stake.”
EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows, echoed this, noting, “The recent historic federal infrastructure investments provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to break down barriers and expand opportunity in the construction industry. While discrimination has long been an issue in the industry, we can decide the future. I look forward to working with industry leaders, employers, and unions to help ensure safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers.”
Key Findings from EEOC Report
The report includes a brief overview of the construction industry followed by a discussion of employment discrimination based on race, national origin, and sex in the industry through the lens of the Commission’s publicly resolved cases over the past decade. The report’s key findings include:
- Women and people of color are underrepresented in the construction industry and especially in the higher-paid, higher-skilled trades.
- Discrimination based on sex, race, and national origin persists and contributes to the underrepresentation of women and workers of color in construction.
- Harassment is pervasive on many worksites and poses a significant barrier to the recruitment and retention of women and workers of color in the industry.
- Racial harassment in construction often takes virulent forms and nooses appear with chilling frequency on jobsites across the country.
- Harassment in construction is a workplace safety issue as well as a civil rights issue.
- Construction workers who experience discrimination often do not know to whom or how to report violations.
- Retaliation is a serious problem in the construction industry and hinders efforts to prevent and remedy unlawful discrimination and harassment.
“We recognize the urgent need for new, different, and collaborative approaches to these persistent challenges,” Burrows said. “Although the EEOC has had considerable success in its investigations and litigation on behalf of construction workers who experience discrimination, these enforcement efforts must be coupled with thoughtful and effective preventive measures to ensure the industry’s significant opportunities are equally open to all qualified workers.”
Next Steps for Equal Employment Opportunities
- Develop industry-specific technical assistance for employers, unions, and workers to help ensure fair hiring practices, equal treatment on the job, and safe and inclusive workplaces;
- Meet with unions, employers, industry groups, workers, and civil rights organizations to understand their needs, develop coalitions, and provide information about their rights and duties under federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination;
- Provide information about lawful diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) practices that have been effective in fostering opportunities for all workers;
- Partner with unions, employers, and community-based organizations to provide effective anti-harassment training to apprentices and workers; and
- Work cooperatively with other federal, state, and local anti-discrimination agencies to advance equal employment opportunity in the industry.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to email updates.
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