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July 24, 2017

Rainbow PUSH Blocks Construction Site and Demands Share the Work

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 23, 2017 

Rainbow PUSH Blocks Construction Site and Demands Share the Work

 

 

 

CHICAGO – “Black workers matter. Black workers matter. Share the work.”

 

The chant rose up from a sunbaked sidewalk in the South Loop Friday morning as members of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the African American Contractors Association (AACA) blocked the entrance to a construction site, the beginning, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. said, of a renewed focus and campaign for economic justice.

 

Rev. Jackson and his fellow demonstrators stayed at the site until the builder and its corporate client, the Ohio-based, family-owned White Castle restaurant chain, agreed to meet with Rainbow PUSH officials at the coalition’s Chicago headquarters on Monday, July 24 to discuss hiring African Americans for this project and others across the city and country.

 

Illinois has the highest rate of black unemployment in the United States.

 

 “Our marching is not in vain,” Rev. Jackson told the demonstrators, construction cranes, hovering above the nearby streets of the booming neighborhood. “They want to hire two carpenters immediately. We’re already winning.”

 

There were no blacks or women on the eight-man all white crew from Princeton Builders of Orland Park at the construction site of a new White Castle restaurant going up at Cermak Road and Wabash Avenue, part of Ald. Pat Dowell’s Third Ward.

 

“What PUSH and AACA are doing, I support,” Dowell said. “You all need to do more of that.”

 

That is the plan, or, as Rev. Jackson puts it, “We’re coming.”

 

Blocking the gate was the first in a series of actions throughout the city in the coming weeks by PUSH to expose and protest the lack of employment opportunities for African Americans in the restaurant and construction industries.

 

“Every school, every restaurant, every church, every office building built we intend to have black workers on the line,” said Rev. Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “We want fair share, not welfare. We want to work. Share the work. Black workers matter.”

 

On Friday, Rev. Jackson and Omar Shareef, Rainbow PUSH Coalition Labor Director and founder of AACA, led about a dozen demonstrators in a slow circle of pickets and protest before blocking the gate. A short time later, Tim Voss, the site superintendent and son of the construction company owner, Frank Voss, put down his hammer, stopped work, approached the group and began to negotiate.

 

Voss said he would hire a carpenter immediately if the group had a list of names, because, “We’re willing to work with anybody.”

 

“We’d like you to stop the work until we can talk on Monday,” Shareef said.

 

“I don’t know if we can do that,” Voss said. “We have a schedule to keep.”

 

“We have a schedule too,” Rev. Jackson said, “for racial justice and gender equality – and we’re behind.”

 

Voss called his father and executives from White Castle to join the negotiations, which took place on the dusty gravel just inside the gate. Darrin Cotton, an African American district supervisor for

White Castle, arrived and assured Rev. Jackson and the demonstrators that the builder had “minority workers coming in” the next week and that White Castle was committed to racial diversity and advancement.   

 

 Frank Voss, the owner of the construction company, told Rev. Jackson, “We’re not locking anyone out.”

 

The vice president of White Castle, Jamie Richardson, joined the talks by cellphone. He said the company has 386 restaurants, primarily located in the Midwest. “We’re committed to our communities,” Richardson said. “We’re committed to making sure we are inclusive.”

 

Rev. Jackson said the demonstrators would allow work to continue until the Monday morning meeting at PUSH.

 

“If we’re not doing the right thing,” Richardson said, “we’ll fix it.”

 

The day before the demonstration, in the middle of a weekday afternoon, more than 200 people, mostly African Americans, but also some whites and Latinos, crowded into the Community Hall at Rainbow PUSH headquarters, 930 E. 50th Street, for a training session about becoming a construction site “flagger,” a job that pays $41-an-hour.

 

Putting African Americans to work, giving them a shot at the American Dream by pushing open doors from the mailroom to the C-Suites, has been Rev. Jackson’s passion since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. appointed him 51 years ago to head Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of the civil rights movement.

 

The motto of Breadbasket was, “Ministers fight for jobs and rights.”

 

“We believe in inclusion and diversity and expanding opportunities for all those who live in this city,” Rev. Jackson told a multiracial group of contractors meeting at PUSH on Saturday. “We’re not trying to put whites out of business. We want to put blacks and browns and whites in business.”

 

But there are too many jobs, he said, that African Americans and Latinos can do, but “are not allowed to do.” 

 

That will no longer be tolerated.

 

“Nobody will work unless everybody works,” the reverend said. “A job is worth fighting for. Whether it’s public or private, we want our fair share of jobs and contracts. Unemployment is economic violence.”

 

To help end this violence, Rev. Jackson urged the contractors that if they see a construction site or a high-end downtown restaurant with no African Americans building, flagging, serving or hosting to call Rainbow PUSH at 773-FREEDOM.

 

 

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Media Contact: Don Terry

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Chinta Strausberg

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