An American bricklayer's union is calling on the Obama administration to deny visas to a group of Chinese workers selected to travel to Washington this fall to assemble a sculpture on the National Mall in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This morning members of the Local 1 Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers union leafleted the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation offices in downtown Washington, telling commuters that outsourcing the project to China and denying U.S. workers the opportunity to contribute to the monument during a time of high unemployment is "wrong, wrong, wrong."
Scott Garvin, president of Local 1, questioned why the government would pass over the same group of workers that have worked on virtually every other project on the National Mall.
"With the record of China on human rights, and the fact that we have such high unemployment in the United States, we're wondering why?" Garvin asked. "We want to the let the public to be aware of the problems with this particular memorial and hopefully we can get some of our United States citizens working on this project."
Although the Chinese sculpting delegation is not large -- about eight to 12 workers -- the union contends that with the vast pool of unemployed Americans, skilled jobs like those selected for the project should be prioritized for American workers. The union has appealed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deny visas for the Chinese workers on the project. The State Department on Monday defered questions about the visas to the King Memorial Foundation.
Critics say the controversy is somewhat ironic given the fact that the objective of King's March on Washington in 1963 was about enlisting American jobs, in addition to drawing attention to the civil rights movement.
"There's so many people that believe in what Dr. King spent his life working on, and unions are organizations that share those visions as well," Garvin said. "Workers' rights, the dignity of coming out there day-in and day-out and just trying to provide for your family. Giving everybody a fair opportunity to voice their opinion, and for people to stand together for a democratic process."
Harry E. Johnson, President and CEO at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, says that only the centerpiece of the memorial, the Stone of Hope, will be completed by Chinese artisans, and the overwhelming majority of the four-acre project is being finished by American workers.
"We are proud of the fact that we have been inclusive of workers from all walks of life-- as Dr. King would have wanted in espousing his message of not judging a person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," Johnson said in a statement to ABC News. "While 95 percent of the work is being done by American workers, we strongly believe that we should not exclude anyone from working on this project simply because of their religious beliefs, social background or country of origin."
Construction on the $120 million monument is scheduled to begin this fall and should take about 20 months to complete. The foundation has set up a construction webcam so people can follow the progress of the project online.
Barbara Moore, an unemployed bricklayer and member of Local 1, says she has been out of work for nearly one year, and called on the president to bring down the unemployment rate and show leadership on the economy.