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Rahm implementing 7.5 percent local hiring preference on first two city projects

Four months after guaranteeing neighborhood residents a share of city construction jobs, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is finally ready to implement that local hiring preference.

The first two city projects that require 7.5 percent of all labor hours to go to neighborhood residents are being put out to bid.

One is a streetscaping project along 71st Street between Jeffrey Boulevard and South Shore Drive that includes new sidewalks, landscaping, lighting and other roadway improvements. Jobs will go to residents of the Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shore communities.

The other is a sewer rehabilitation project on South Martin Luther King Drive from 29th Street to 30th. Those jobs will go to residents of Douglas, Oakland and Grand Boulevard.

Proposed in April in response to protests, the hiring preference requires at least 7.5 percent of labor hours on city-funded construction projects over $100,000 to go to residents of the neighborhood surrounding the jackhammers.

City construction contractors are already required to fill half of their jobs with city residents. But, there is no requirement that African-Americans be hired to fill construction jobs in black neighborhoods.

That has long been a bone of contention with African-American alderman and the residents they represent.

The 7.5 percent hiring preference would be applied toward the existing, 50 percent requirement. Contractors that fall short and fail to demonstrate good-faith efforts to fulfill the local hiring preference would face monetary damages.

Last year, retired Soft Sheen Products founder Ed Gardner put Emanuel on the political hot seat by leading a series of demonstrations that got progressively larger to protest a shortage of blacks on city construction jobs.

The local hiring preference was aimed at preventing a repeat of those protests. But, it was not enough to satisfy Gardner.

Gardner credited the mayor with “moving in the right direction” and showing that he is “listening.”

But, Gardner said it would take a lot more than 7.5 percent of labor hours on city construction jobs over $100,000 to reduce the 18 percent unemployment rate plaguing African-American neighborhoods besieged by gang violence.

“The mayor should realize that the black community is suffering. When you see the black men in our community — too many of them are utilizing the narcotics business as a way to make a living. That’s horrible,” Gardner, 88, said then.

“Our young black men have given up on getting jobs and utilizing education as a means to improve their quality of life. I’ve talked with the mayor. He doesn’t want to accept any responsibility for young black men on drugs…But they haven’t had equal opportunity. The 18 percent unemployment is indicative that we have not done our job. And the mayor is the main one who has to step up and assume the responsibility of improving employment opportunity for black men and women.”

Gardner argued at the time that “no other city in the nation is struggling with crime” like Chicago.

“The mayor should ask himself why are we so unique? We are unique because we haven’t had a fair opportunity to get jobs. The mayor has to get out in the street and see what I see. Go up and down 95th Street between State and Halsted and see young black men utilizing the drug business as a way to make a living. I see this every day. All we’re looking for is fairness, Mr. Mayor,” he said.

Gardner’s “not enough” complaint prompted the mayor’s office to issue a rebuttal reaffirming Emanuel’s commitment to “create employment opportunities for residents” in every Chicago neighborhood.

“Whether through the recently announced CTA hiring program for ex-offenders, the 400 bus drivers being hired to help during the Red Line South construction project, or the more than 1,000 employees working on the third shift at the Ford plant on Torrance Avenue, the mayor is working to ensure that there are job opportunities across the city for people of all backgrounds and experiences, and will continue to work to expand these opportunities in the future,” the statement said.