Controversy swirls on hiring for South Side Walmart construction

February 1, 2013 3:24:40 PM PST
A hiring controversy is brewing at a new Walmart project on Chicago's South Side.

Some applicants are wondering if they're being forced to go through a political hiring process.

After meeting with the people in charge of building the new Ninth Ward Walmart, Reginald Rooks thought he'd been hired as a carpenter.

"I'm from the community, I am in the union, I am a carpenter," Rooks said.

On Tuesday Rooks heard otherwise from Maurice Williams, the project's "Community Outreach" director.

"Maurice Williams himself called me and told me 'No you do not have a job because you did not go through me,'" Rooks said.

Williams defended his decision.

"He tried to jump the list and get in front of other people who were just as well qualified and who had been on our list longer than he," Williams said.

But Rooks complained that only Ninth Ward residents, virtually all African-Americans, are the only ones hired from Williams' list.

"So most of the white people here didn't go through the list? Most of them, no, absolutely not," Williams said.

The ward has one of the highest unemployment rates in the city.

Ninth Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, a candidate for Congress, said he's always recommended private contractors use hiring consultants on projects here to ensure local residents are hired.

"It's been successful for 14 years," Beale said. "It's a process that's in place and it works."

Rooks said Beale's congressional campaign has asked him to distribute flyers.

Rooks and leaders of the African-American Contractors Association suspect a connection between the hiring consultant and Beale's political organization.

"I'm handing out your literature," Rooks said. "Yes, I should get a job."

Critics blame it on the culture of corruption that Chicago politics is infamous for.

"Its' just a culture of corruption going on," the Save Our Community Coalition's Bob Israel said. "You know how long I've been fighting that. It's just a culture of corruption."

Beale denied any connection between his political organization and Maurice Williams.

"There's no connection between my office and Mr. Williams other than he has a company and we direct people to his particular company," Beale said.

Because of the hiring list, the Walmart construction workforce includes 40-percent minority workers, which is well over the city's requirement, according to Beale.