Emanuel proposes neighborhood hiring ordinance

March 13, 2013 4:16:26 PM PDT
A new measure could increase African American workers on taxpayer-supported construction sites within predominately black communities.

During the past few years, Bob Israel has seen a problem at public works construction sites in the city's predominantly black neighborhoods.

"You can see we're in the middle of the African American community. I don't see any African-Americans out there working, unless you see some I don't see," Israel said.

As rebuilding Chicago's infrastructure reaches an historic pace, the mayor's office wants the private construction companies that do taxpayer-supported contract work for the city to hire 7.5-percent of their workforces from the surrounding neighborhoods.

"I wanted to make sure that not only those investments were throughout the city and every part of the city was growing by making those investments but also that residents throughout the city could participate," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

But Israel says 7.5-percent won't get the job done.

"Whatever the census data says, can we have that percentage. If this city is 40-percent African-American, can we have 40-percent," Israel said.

Activists also complained that blacks are not getting their share of no-bid professional contracts on projects, including architectural and engineering services, at a public building commission meeting. Retired businessman Ed Gardner says more could be done by Mayor Emanuel, who chairs the commission.

"Black folks put him in office. Black folks will take him out of office," Gardner said.

African-American aldermen-- whose constituents have the highest unemployment rate in the city-- have kept a relatively low profile on the issue. Council Black Caucus Chairman Howard Brookins blamed trade unions.

"These contractors are in fact union and it is some of their rules that determine who actually comes out on these particular sites," Ald. Howard Brookins said.

Gardner is threatening more demonstrations at relevant sites when the construction season reaches full swing in a few weeks. Israel says the mayor's proposed ordinance is at least a sign that city hall is paying attention.

"We most definitely got their attention. But what they're going to do about it is another question," Israel said.