April 17, 2012

Community workers protest lack of diversity in campus construction hires

Neighborhood residents and leaders of the Save Our Communities Coalition marched onto campus yesterday morning, demanding University jobs for local residents in compliance with the University’s Memorandum of Understanding.

The protesters began at East 58th Street and South Stony Island Avenue around 8 a.m. and continued to march until they stopped outside the Administration building at 10:00 a.m., chanting “UChicago hates black people.” According to the coalition, which prefers to speak with one voice, the group began with about 35 people and shrunk to around 10 by the time they arrived in front of the Administration building.

The U of C, in conjunction with the City of Chicago, agreed to the memorandum last summer, stipulating that it will increase employment opportunities for the community as much as possible to facilitate a positive relationship with the South Side.

Though the University has continued to construct and renovate buildings around campus, it has not hired any coalition-affiliated residents in months, said the group, despite the submission of 40 to 50 community member applications in February. Facilities Services Business Diversity Manager Victor Alvarez encouraged them to submit those applications but is no longer responding to their inquiries about hiring status, according to the coalition.

Currently, minority and local worker hours must constitute at least 30 percent of total employee hours, quotas that the University has exceeded, according to U of C spokesperson Jeremy Manier. As of December 31, 43.72 percent of construction hours were by minority and female workers, totaling to over $8.8 million in wages, Manier wrote in an e-mail. He also said that more than half of wages on these projects were earned by Chicago residents.

Minority and female-owned businesses also held 32.83 percent of these major capital projects contracts, which surpasses the 30 percent minimum for that as well. These statistics comprise seven major capital projects on campus, from the completed Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts and Joe and Rika Mansueto Library to the in-progress William Eckhardt Research Center.

The community group’s next step is a meeting with the Office of Civic Engagement, delayed to at least May 1, the University told the coalition. As a side agenda, the group wishes to convince the Board of Trustees to oust President Robert Zimmer for his “racist policies,” according to member Paul Johnson.

Johnson also criticized the “patronage system,” in which only those associated with Bishop Byron Brazier of the Apostolic Church of God get hired for University projects. “He is a Negro preacher, he receives gifts—benefits—from Rahm Emanuel,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t pay the water tax because the aldermans [of the third, fifth, and 20th wards] give him waivers.”

Johnson distinguished between a Negro preacher, who “doesn’t care about his people,” and a real preacher, who does.

The group also referred to other aspects of the University’s presence as elitist, such as the low percentage of African students and faculty in the College and restricted access to trauma care for Grove Park residents.

“There are two separate black Americas, separate and unequal,” Johnson said. “There are the very, very few elitist blacks, like Bishop Brazier, and then the rest who are not middle class,” he said.

“We don’t discriminate,” he added. “There are two separate white Americas, too, separate and unequal.”

The coalition intends to protest frequently again now that the weather is warming up and during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in May. “We’ll protest graduation if [Zimmer] keeps up with racist policies,” president Bob Israel said. “Every day until we get answers.”