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These days, it's just something you rarely, if ever, see: African-Americans laboring within the largely Hispanic construction crews working the Gulf Coast's heavy industrial projects.
Ricardo Charles says he knows exactly why and after 33 years in the building trade, he's blowing the whistle.
Black and White
Charles says those who run organized, largely Hispanic crews almost never hire willing African-American laborers.
"Oh no, blacks they are out of the question. Blacks are out of the question. Nobody wants a black person in there," Charles insisted, a Mexican-American man.
The practice of rejecting black labor is deeply entrenched discrimination which extends to white workers as well, Charles says.
These men and women are effectively cut off from decent-paying construction jobs by secretive Mexican labor gangs.
"They are afraid that white people are not going to put up with their unethical acts," Charles explained.
He's talking about bribes. They call it "Mordida" in Mexico, the bite.
"This is actually just like in Mexico. It's not how much you know, it's who you know," Charles said.
For years, on nearly every major industrial construction site in Texas, workers have been quietly forced to pay the leaders of Mexican labor gangs hundreds of dollars up front just to obtain a job.
With each weekly pay-check, the kick backs from workers to gang leaders continue.
"It's not only how much you pay to go in. You pay anything from $50 to $70 a week while you are in the project," Charles insisted.
Anyone who objects to paying the price is quickly isolated and almost as rapidly cut loose from the job without cause.
"They have these groups that are going to harass you, they want to insult you, degrade you. They want to make it very, very hard on you. They want to make false accusations about you: that you don't know how to do the job, you don't know how to talk to them, but they are all in the same conspiracy. It is a gang, like organized crime," Charles said.
Bed of Rotten Money
Over dozens of years and hundreds of sites across Texas, including the giant petrochemical complex in Port Arthur, he says Mexican construction cliques have muscled honest workers out of millions of dollars.
Money that's made gang bosses rich.
"Everybody knows. Yes, many people know that you have to belong to a clique in order to work. Mexicans exploiting Mexicans and contractors looking the other way," he said.
There's nothing casual about his allegations. Everything he's witnessed:
-- The "pay for play"
-- The graft
-- The enforced silence
-- And the corrupt complicity of contractors
It's all recorded in "Mexican Cliques in Construction", the book he paid thousands of his own hard-earned dollars to publish.
He has also brought his allegations and evidence to the FBI.
"Many people are victims. Many of my friends who are honest are victims," he insisted. "We are applying a system that didn't work in Mexico for hundreds years and actually it's working here in Houston, Texas."
Copies of "Mexican Cliques in Construction" can be obtained by contacting Ricardo Charles through his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories from KRIV in Houston, Texas go to myfoxHouston.com.