After time with the criminal justice system in 2010, I experienced the job rejection that many like myself deal with upon re-entering the workforce. While I was more than qualified for job after job, as soon as they saw the box checked for a felony conviction, my resume went straight to the trash.
Now, years later and with a national craft competition win under my belt, I am experiencing another kind of box-checking rejection. As a non-union roofing construction worker, I will not be able to work at Gavilan College if a Project Labor Agreement is adopted.
This is not a new obstacle. Upon my re-entry, I worked tirelessly to join a union so that job opportunities would be more accessible, but there were no pathways to joining that did not impose a financial burden on me. Joining the Associated Builders and Contractors Northern California apprenticeship program was a way to find work that did not discriminate against my background while providing the additional training and certifications required for construction projects.
Here in Gilroy, this rejection is hitting particularly close to home. I would love to be able to work on a project to quite literally put a roof over my son’s school, not to mention a commute just miles from my house. Gavilan Community College, where my son is a student, is currently considering a project labor agreement policy that would require a majority of its workforce to come from the union.
But because I don’t check the union box, I may not even have the opportunity to work on this project. Rather, I would be forced to work on projects nearly hundreds of miles away, spending time, money and energy on my commute instead of my family.
The Gavilan Community College construction project to upgrade their classrooms, labs and other facilities is a result of Measure X, a bond passed by voters in 2018. The college is considering whether to adopt a project labor agreement that restricts workers and apprentices to those who are union-only.
While I am excited to see the community invest in the school’s infrastructure, I am concerned that the college will be excluding skilled members of the community from contributing to the projects.
Myself and countless other non-union workers are equally, if not more, experienced and qualified. What’s more, many of us, including myself, are national craft competition winners. The City of Gilroy, Santa Clara County, and my Assembly Member, State Senator and Member of Congress have all recognized my awards and apprenticeships and deemed them worthy of special commendations. I fear that the Gavilan Community College Board of Trustees will fail to see the certified talent of myself and other non-union construction workers.
Furthermore, those of us with the Associated Builders and Contractors Northern California—not union—have good-paying jobs that are equal to union construction jobs and would not fall short of the college’s expectation for fair work. It is not fair compensation that we oppose, but unfair deals to cut out non-union jobs.
It is my hope that the Gavilan Community College Board of Trustees recognizes how exclusionary a project labor agreement to only hire a majority of union workers would be. Many of us are looking to do good work, especially in our own community, but we are unable to because we don’t belong to a union and we should not be punished for it.
I spent many years battling a little box on a job application only to be doing it once more in my own community. I urge the Gavilan Community College Board of Trustees and the entire Gilroy community to support all local workers as we upgrade the campus.
Miguel Villa is a craft carpenter and has earned national recognition for roofing, carpentry and safety. He is a Gilroy resident and a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors Northern California.