Mayor wants 7.5 percent neighborhood hiring on city projects, protester wants more
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org March 13, 2013 3:30PM
Workers on a deserted upper Wacker Drive -- in front of the Civic Opera House at Madison Street -- secure barriers on Monday for the start of construction to rebuild the roadway. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: April 15, 2013 11:28AM
Neighborhood residents would get guaranteed construction jobs on city projects —with a minimum of 7.5 percent of labor hours — under a hiring preference proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday that was not enough to satisfy a protest leader.
Retired Soft Sheen Products founder Ed Gardner credited Emanuel for “moving in the right direction” and showing that he is “listening.”
But Gardner said it’ll take a lot more than 7.5 percent of labor hours on city construction jobs over $100,000 to reduce the 18 percent unemployment rate plaguing African-American neighborhoods besieged by gang violence.
“The mayor should realize that the black community is suffering. When you see the black men in our community — too many of them are utilizing the narcotics business as a way to make a living. That’s horrible,” said Gardner, 88.
“Our young black men have given up on getting jobs and utilizing education as a means to improve their quality of life. I’ve talked with the mayor. He doesn’t want to accept any responsibility for young black men on drugs…But they haven’t had equal opportunity. The 18 percent unemployment is indicative that we have not done our job. And the mayor is the main one who has to step up and assume the responsibility of improving employment opportunity for black men and women.”
Gardner argued that “no other city in the nation is struggling with crime” like Chicago.
“The mayor should ask himself why are we so unique? We are unique because we haven’t had a fair opportunity to get jobs. The mayor has to get out in the street and see what I see. Go up and down 95th Street between State and Halsted and see young black men utilizing the drug business as a way to make a living. I see this every day. All we’re looking for is fairness, Mr. Mayor,” he said.
Gardner’s “not enough” complaint prompted the mayor’s office to issue a rebuttal reaffirming the mayor’s commitment to “create employment opportunities for residents” in every Chicago neighborhood.
“Whether through the recently announced CTA hiring program for ex-offenders, the 400 bus drivers being hired to help during the Red Line South construction project, or the more than 1,000 employees working on the third shift at the Ford plant on Torrance Avenue, the mayor is working to ensure that there are job opportunities across the city for people of all backgrounds and experiences, and will continue to work to expand these opportunities in the future,” the statement said.
Last fall, Gardner put Emanuel on the political hot seat by leading a series of demonstrations that got progressively larger to protest a shortage of blacks on city construction jobs.
Emanuel is obviously determined to avoid an ugly repeat.
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the mayor introduced an ordinance that would require at least 7.5 percent of the labor hours on city-funded construction contracts over $100,000 to go to residents of a yet-to-be-defined neighborhood surrounding the jackhammers.
City construction contractors are already required to fill half of their jobs with city residents. But there is no requirement that African-Americans be hired to fill construction jobs in black neighborhoods.
That has long been a bone of contention with African-American aldermen and the residents they represent.
The 7.5 percent hiring preference would be applied toward the existing 50 percent requirement.
“I wanted to make sure — not only that those investments were throughout the city so every part of the city was growing but also that residents throughout the city could participate,” Emanuel said Wednesday.
“It doesn’t apply to anything that’s federal. But where we have just city resources, I want to make sure that the residents have buy-in to what’s going on in their community. That is the basis of this reform,” the mayor said.
Emanuel said the hiring preference is timed to coincide with a massive overhaul of Chicago’s aging water system bankrolled by a near doubling of water rates over a four-year period.
“Nine hundred miles of water pipe will be replaced — everything that’s 100 years old. Six hundred and seventy miles of sewer will be re-lined and rebuilt. One hundred and sixty thousand catch basins. There’s an area where in fact we are working aggressively,” the mayor said.
“CPS grads will have a leg up. Veterans will have a leg up and also the residents. That’s what this will allow because that’s fully paid for within the city…When you’re paving the road or laying the pipe . . . we’re making sure there’s not only an investment coming but the jobs are coming with it.”