Housing Complex

Can LiUNA Rebuild a Movement by Advertising on Bus Shelters?

Spotted on Columbia Road. (Lydia DePillis)

Public employees unions have advertised on bus shelters before, and the strategy's expanding: LiUNA, the biggest construction union in the region, just went live with new ads on bus and metro stops to try to attract new members. A spokesman tells me  they're located on Columbia Road NW, 16th Street near the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue near Potomac Avenue SE, and the Wheaton and Van Dorn metro stations (some are in English).

One of the interesting things about the pitch is that it's much more of a business proposition than an appeal to become part of a movement. The ad points out that unionized workers in Pennsylvania make about $50,ooo per year, while non-union workers in D.C. make less than half that. That squares with LiUNA's "about" section on its website, which lays out all the ways in which union members live better.

In contrast, the Service Employees International Union talks about their millions of members and commitment to "creating a more just and humane society." Of course, they're in a much better position to boast, having contracts with many more employers than LiUNA in the area; the SEIU local is threatening to strike if building owners don't agree on a more generous contract.

The other interesting thing is the awkward position in which LiUNA finds itself with regard to recruiting Latino workers. At the end of August, they participated in a protest at St. Elizabeths over an alleged failure to hire enough D.C. residents. A lot of people at that protest, and throughout Ward 8, felt that more African Americans specifically should be hired on the project. A group called DC Jobs or Else, which sent out a joint press release with LiUNA on that protest, just sent out another—sans LiUNA—announcing a march on the CityCenterDC construction site "to demand the hiring of African-American District of Columbia residents." The release uses the term "local" and "African American" interchangeably.

Last year, I wrote about a conflict within LiUNA's United Construction Workers local, where several organizers quit over higher-ups being less than welcoming towards immigrants. Unlike the white ethnic industrial areas of the rust belt, in D.C., it's black residents who grumble that Hispanics prevail on local construction sites. In an environment where jobs are scarce—even if construction here is doing fairly well—LiUNA has to make space for them all.

  • e

    Hi Lydia,

    Thanks for doing such a fine job.

    One typo: the ad says that unionized workers in PA make $50K/YEAR (not $50/hr), while non-unionized make $25K/yr.

  • Lydia DePillis

    Crud! I even ran it through a Spanish speaker! Thanks for the correction, it's been fixed.

  • Michael Wilson

    I support what LIUNA is doing. I don't think their message is only African Americans should work on these project but that everyone should have the opportunity to work on construction projects including both African Americans and Hispanics. What I don't understand is how I drive by local constriction sites and see a workforce that's 95% Hispanic and 3% African American in a city whose population demographics is 9.1% Hispanic and 50.7% African American according to the U.S. Census. The unemployment rate in the African American community is far too high for us to continue to be over looked and shut out of these opportunities. Inconsistencies like this don't happen by chance but rather by design and somebody needs to fight againsts this injustice.

  • Southeast Ken

    It's call, illegal immigration Michael Wilson. Many of these Salvadorans and Central Americans working in D.C. are illegal or are not authorized to work in the United States. Our liberal D.C. council and mayor supports illegal immigration and have allowed illegals to work in the District for years.