Protesters demand equal opportunity

PHILADELPHIA – Nearly 40 angry protesters attended a City Council meeting here Dec. 12 to demand inclusion of African Americans, Latinos and women in public works construction projects.

Seeing that they were not going to be recognized to speak, the protesters began chanting, “We want jobs! We want jobs!” Members of Enough Is Enough were finally allowed to speak.

“We are tired of seeing workers from out of town hired for city construction jobs while people in the community are begging for jobs,” said one speaker.

Another speaker said council members would be voted out if they did not show more compassion for the people.

Two weeks ago the community advocacy group shut down a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) worksite in West Philadelphia. SEPTA had promised to hire and train residents from the community for its $560 million Market Street Elevated Reconstruction Project. Out of 600 applicants only 32 have been hired.

Last week SEPTA obtained a court injunction requiring demonstrators to remain far away from any SEPTA construction site. But Sacaree Rhodes, one of the organizers of Enough Is Enough, said the injunction would not stop protests until SEPTA did the right thing. SEPTA said the project is only 20 percent completed and that more workers will be hired.

People in the community have also complained about the lack of provisions for them to get to the small businesses in the construction area. Many of the owners are now facing bankruptcy.

The African-American Chamber of Commerce says few African-American contractors were hired for the project. Some of the protesters complained about the small number of African Americans in the building trade unions and the history of racial discrimination in those unions. One man said he is a card-carrying union member with skills and experience but did not get hired for the SEPTA project.

Rep. Bob Brady, an officer of the carpenters’ union, explained part of the problem. Any company paying prevailing wages can bid on city construction projects. These companies bring their own workers to the project, many times they are not unionized. Said the congressman, “It is important that elected officials and unions play a role in making sure that contractors comply with guidelines that guarantee inclusion.”

Councilman Derrell Clarke introduced a resolution calling for an Equal Opportunity Task Force to provide resources and data to community groups and City Council to review minority employment opportunities on all city-funded construction projects and penalties for contractors that don’t comply with city hiring goals.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthilnk.net