Recruiting out in the community

NO-HOOD WELDING Phillip Clark, chair of the UA Local 290 Diversity Committee, shows two prospective union members how to use a virtual welding training app. The June 3 outreach event at Portland Covenant Church was the first of three events meant to interest workers of color in the construction trades. | PHOTOS BY MALLORY GRUBEN


IBEW Local 48 member Isis Harris wants to help union leaders increase diversity in the trades. That starts with meeting prospective workers where they live, she said. 

The journeyman electrician this summer organized the Second Annual Community Pulse Series, an event meant to recruit people of color to the trades. It takes place at Portland Covenant Church in Northeast Portland’s historically Black King neighborhood. It’s half career fair, half block party. 

IBEW Local 48 apprentice Leron Brooks runs a wiring workshop.

Informational booths for construction careers line the perimeter of a big room, while a DJ spins R&B tunes. Outside, a grill master prepares lunch, and volunteers oversee face painting and a bouncy house for children. 

The idea is to make learning about the union building trades easy for people who might not have any prior connection, Harris said. That’s common for people of color, who have been historically underrepresented in the industry. In 2022, about 7% of the nation’s construction workers were Black, even though Black people account for 13.6% of the U.S. population.  

“In the Black community, when I started talking about wanting to be an electrician, they didn’t understand why I would want to play with live wires,” Harris said. Harris’ family didn’t know that at most jobs, the power is turned off before work begins. She’s also heard friends say they think you have to be related to someone in the union before you can join. 

Misperceptions like that can deter people from the industry, so the Community Pulse Series tries to debunk those myths. It also helps people with obstacles that might prevent them from starting a new job. For example, a booth set up by nonprofit law firm Youth Rights & Justice helps people clear their juvenile criminal records. 

On June 3, at the first event in the series, journeyman steamfitter Phillip Clark, chair of the UA Local 290 Diversity Committee, volunteered to run a booth for Local 290. Local 290 is one of the event’s sponsors; others include Laborers Local 737, Sheet Metal Local 16, and Hoffman Construction Company. Oksana Prokhorova told Clark one of her sons, a high school junior with autism, wants to get into a hands-on job after he graduates. As her son practiced welding on a simulator, Clark walked Prokhorova through the math requirements for Local 290’s apprenticeship exam. 

“It’s really good information,” she told the Labor Press. “I even found some opportunities for me.”


Isis Harris will host two more Community Pulse events from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 22 and Aug. 12 at Portland Covenant Church (4046 NE MLK Jr. Blvd.) The events are free and open to the public. Unions, employers, or groups interested in hosting a vendor table can email for information. 

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