Mayoral challenger Willie Wilson lashed out at Mayor Rahm Emanuel Thursday for accepting the endorsement of 15 trade unions with an “abysmal lack of diversity” in their ranks.
Emanuel packaged the union endorsements whose donations to the mayor’s campaign fund have been pouring in for months in an attempt to showcase how much his once frosty relationship with organized labor has improved.
“Three years ago, there would have been three of us — and I was one of them,” the mayor said as he stood before a mostly white, mostly male crowd of beefy labor leaders at IBEW Local 134, 600 W. Washington Blvd.
Wilson crashed the mayor’s party.
The millionaire businessman held a news conference outside the union headquarters to condemn the mayor for accepting support from lily-white trade unions with a sorry history of “cronyism, racism and nepotism.”
“When you go out in the community and look at who’s driving the big machinery and doing construction work, they’re not minorities. They don’t reflect the communities they serve. We’re looking to serve all citizens equally and represent all neighborhoods fairly. They’re not doing that,” Wilson said.
“All trade unions do not reflect equal opportunity for blacks as it relates to jobs and contacts. I challenge them to show their numbers of blacks and minorities. They’re abysmal. You should not accept the endorsement from these unions because they don’t represent equal opportunity. The unions need to get their act together in providing fair representation for all Chicagoans.”
Wilson’s broadside resurrected a historic complaint against trade unions that have come around in more recent years by launching apprenticeship programs in conjunction with the city.
But it was enough to put Emanuel on the defensive.
“When we rebuilt the Red Line South, we did it with a change to make sure people in the neighborhood participated and [so did African-American] sub-contractors and contractors,” the mayor said.
“In the same way that when we’re building Malcolm X, one of the few new public universities in the city in a long time, the architect is an African-American. I believe also because of calling out specific unions, the Laborers have made a major effort with us when we did the investments in our water fund to open up the apprenticeship program to CPS graduates. We’ve made that an effort for all the building trades and including public safety.”
The mayor also pointed to his decision to resolve the marathon legal battle stemming from the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 firefighters entrance exam.
Under Emanuel, the city agreed to hire 111 bypassed black firefighters and borrow the $78.4 million needed to compensate nearly 6,000 African-Americans who never got that chance.
“So, at every level, there’s more to be done. But we’re not resting and we’ve made a fundamental break with past practices,” the mayor said.