Political discourse without the spin.
I just ran across an article in the Sun-Times from April 17th, regarding a new $251 Million Dollar building at Malcolm X College. It will be a training center for the health care industry. The largest African-American architectural firm in the country, Moody Nolan, serves as the ‘architect of record.’ And, 12.6% of the 950 jobs to build this great building were set aside for community residents, according to Mayor Emanuel. They must live between Lake and 26th Sts., and from Ashland to California Aves.
This building will be on the Jackson Blvd. & Damen Ave. side, where the parking lot is located now. That’s right on top of the United Center. Yes, it’s also in the middle of the IMD [Illinois Medical District]. BUT – what surrounds that? Last time I looked, the neighborhood was still 97% Black, in spite of gentrification. Why are only 12.6% of the construction positions being held for neighborhood workers? This is a mockery.
Ed Gardner, founder of Soft Sheen Products, knows this all too well. In the Sun-Times article, he said, “He’s [Emanuel] moving in the right direction. I’m just concerned we get the maximum amount of people employed from any project like this. I want at least 50 percent of anything the city has put forth — and it’s gonna be in that community that needs it so much.”
Included in this opportunity will be training for the proper skill set at Dawson Technical Institute, a satellite of Kennedy-King College, on 39th & State. That will be for about 50 students. That’s good, too. But it implies that there’s no one in the community skilled enough to get hired when they start construction. I find that hard to believe; it’s like everyone’s walking around without a brain, never did anything worthwhile, and it’s another insult.
The building is scheduled to open in 2016. It will be a substantial addition to the Chicago City Colleges’ roster of properties. Their budget also includes improvements at Harold Washington, Olive-Harvey, Truman, Wright and Daley campuses. How will they pay for it? With TIF money, along with “… a mix of bonds, capital reserves, operating funds and $8 million in funds generated by the surrounding tax-increment financing district.”
We must be careful that the entire system is not changed to a vocational format, rather than preparing students to complete their Associate’s degrees and move on to a 4-year college to finish their studies. Vocational is good for some, but don’t try to blanket an entire economic class with this limited opportunity, ultimately ensuring they stay there. Don’t try to create a permanent underclass by not offering doctorate programs, just as they do LPN programs. On one hand, it is a start, but don’t get happy until it’s where it should be.
This problem with construction jobs has been ongoing for many, many years. As a Chicago resident, I’ve seen them all. I’ve had friends who started construction companies, only to be run out of business because they couldn’t get a fair contract from the ‘contractor of record’ on various jobs. The primary contractor is supposed to hire a certain percentage of minority sub-contractors. However, they’ll create another corporation in their wife’s name, the baby, the dog, anything to avoid doing right. Alternatively, they’ll hire a Black firm, as my friends used to tell me, and pay less than the going rate, which in turn causes them not to pay their people what they should make. Then it becomes a matter of ‘the Black owners don’t pay well,’ when in fact, they’re the ones being shorted. One more trick is to have the minority contractor’s name on record, but not provide any work at all and just give them a couple of points. Every trick in the book has been tried in this city.
At a meeting of the Public Building Commission earlier this month, Mr. Gardner again confronted Mayor Emanuel, stating that Black residents should get at least 50% of the contracting jobs from the CPS, as they retool schools across the city [but mostly in minority areas] for consolidation this fall. The time is getting short; let’s see what the Mayor does, and keep it in mind for the next election. Start a spreadsheet to keep track; you won’t remember this when the next election takes place 2 years from now. That’s what they’re hoping for, your lack of memory.
In March, Mr. Gardner, along with Bob Israel of the Save Our Community Coalition, said that Mayor Emanuel’s ordinance wants contractors with city-funded construction jobs hire neighborhood residents for at least 7.5% of labor hours, if the job is worth more than $100,000. What? For one thing, an existing hiring agreement exists that states 50% of labor hours must be filled by Chicago residents. So 7.5% is a drop in the bucket, and Emanuel said it will ‘count towards that requirement.’ Why not go for the whole enchilada? What’s the problem?
An elder statesman like Ed Gardner who has proved his point in life, should not have to come out of retirement to rescue people his grandchildren’s age. It’s wonderful that he sees the similarities in the employment issues in this city, when it comes to construction contracts. But what are we doing to help him destroy this institutionally racist policy, so he can truly get some rest? That’s the question. He should be on well-paid speaking tours, teaching Black folk how to really run a business, but instead he’s fighting the same fight that was going on 50 years ago. Something’s wrong with that picture, in many respects.
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Political discourse without the spin.
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