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Group protests CTA union offices over ex-offenders jobs program

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) speaks Thursday's protest offices Amalgamated Transit UniLocal 308. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) speaks at Thursday's protest at the offices of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

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Updated: January 14, 2014 1:03PM

Blame for the impending demise of a tiny Chicago Transportation Authority second-chance program for ex-offenders was lobbed back and forth Thursday, with the only clarity being the rising anger of black community leaders.

“I’m here today to express my disappointment during this holiday season that [Amalgamated Transit Union] Local 308 has decided they are going to play Scrooge this Christmas and eliminate this apprenticeship program that not only provides jobs but provides hope for families,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush said at a protest.

“We’re saying to the unions, these are people who have paid their dues to society and all they want is a fighting chance. Those of us who are standing here today intend to fight for them against hard-hearted, callous union leaders.”

At issue is CTA’s rail car servicer apprenticeship program in place since 2007.

It hires 65 nonviolent ex-offenders to clean cars at $9.50/hour for nine months.

They earn valuable work experience for resumes as they seek to re-enter society.

Last extended in a 2011 non-contract, CTA-union agreement, the program is again set to expire — on Dec. 31. CTA wants to extend it. Local 308 refuses.

Over two dozen protesters — representatives of Congress, the State Legislature, the City Council Black Caucus, churches and community organizations — converged on the 205 W. Wacker offices of Local 308 Thursday, demanding to meet with the president of the union of 3,000 rail employees, but were told he had just left.

A letter from Rush was sent to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Thursday seeking his intervention. The Illinois Congressional delegation — a proxy of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis was there — is also getting involved, Rush said.

But Local 308’s president Robert Kelly only dug in his heels further Thursday.

“CTA President Forest Claypool cut off all ties of talking to the union last December, right after we ratified the contract. He’s the guy who should be coming here and saying, ‘We’d like to do this,’ as he did when we first negotiated it,” Kelly said. “Claypool needs to put on his big boy pants and start negotiating.”

In a June 13 letter, CTA Chairman Terry Peterson had asked Kelly to reconsider his intent to discontinue the program. CTA says he need only sign an extension agreement. But Kelly, who won the rehire of 24 laid-off rail servicers in return for the second-chance program in 2011, is adamant it must be re-negotiated.

Kelly’s position has angered the black community, who say he’s blocking the door.

“He is using this as a political ploy to get things from CTA management,” said protester the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has pleaded with Kelly to no avail.

“Whatever issues he has with management, he gets paid to fight those issues out. He does not get paid to hold hostage 65 lives. What kind of message are you sending out here to someone coming out of the joint and wants to do the right thing? You’re sending a message, ‘You might as well go back to doing what you did, because this society’s not ready to let you in,’” Pfleger said.

The protesters refused to leave. Police were called. The lobby of the downtown office building was soon filled with protesters in one corner, police in another, and everywhere else — people eating, drinking and enjoying a Christmas party.

Twitter: @Maudlynei

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