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Mississippi River Bridge Project Employment Disparity Stings for African American Community Hit Hard By Recession

Categories: Politics

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"I myself don't choose to be a third generation welfare mother. I want to work in the field that I'm trained in," says Dent.

Updated 12:35 p.m. with comments from IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman

Updated again 3:40 p.m. with comments from Kauffman outlining IDOT's strategy to improve minority participation.

Tiama Dent is a single mother of two children and a graduate of the Illinois Department of Transportation's Highway Construction Preparatory Training program.

The eight-week program was created in 2008 to help ensure that minority workers are given the opportunity to work on big projects, such as the $700 million Mississippi River Bridge project.

And yet, out of the program's 178 "pretty much all" minority graduates, Dent says that few are currently working. Which fits into IDOT's math. Minorities make up 99 percent of East St. Louis, but account for just 23 percent of man hours worked on the Mississippi River Bridge project.

"To sit back and let our skills go to waste and to watch our young men go back to the street corner is ridiculous," she says. "This is a 100 percent black city that is suffering from crime and poverty and it's just not enough."

The Great Recession hit the African American community particularly hard, reverberating in cities like East St. Louis. Nearly seventeen percent of African Americans are unemployed, which is more than double the rate of whites. So it can be discouraging for an African American construction worker to see the jobs from a $700 million project, paid for by state and federal funds, mostly go to out-of-towners.

"I myself don't choose to be a third-generation welfare mother," says Dent. "I want to work in the field that I'm trained in."

So she'll be protesting September 16, likely alongside hundreds more including Mayor Alvin Parks and local community leaders, in a march from East St. Louis City Hall to an undisclosed construction site, demanding increased minority participation on the bridge project.

IDOT asserts they're not doing anything wrong. On federally funded projects such as this one, minorities must account for 14.7 percent of the hours worked -- a requirement easily met. But Parks, according the Belleville News-Democrat, argues that the law, enacted in 1966, is outdated and not a viable standard.

He and leaders of the Metro-East Black Contractors Association are asking for 50 percent minority participation on the bridge project. Dent says that they are also requesting that IDOT provide work for 30 percent of the prep program's graduates, many of whom will be marching.

IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman says that a quarter of the training program's graduates have been placed in union positions at construction-related jobs. Whether or not they are working, he says, is up to contractors who hire them-- IDOT's role is simply to give them the best chance of getting a job by training them.

"IDOT intends to continue its efforts to improve minority participation as much as possible," says Kauffman. "We are dedicated to increased minority participation on this job as well all jobs across the state."

When asked what strategies IDOT plans to implement to increase minority participation, Kauffman mentioned several on-going IDOT initiatives, such as providing contractors incentive to hire graduates from the training program, meeting with contractors to encourage workplace diversity, establishing a confidential hotline to allow workers to report potential fraud on a project, and implementing their Target Market program, which sets aside 30 percent of funding for minority-owned and female-owned firms.

When pressed to explain what "incentives" IDOT will use and how they plan to "encourage" contractors, Kauffman couldn't provide details. Additionally he could not say what percentage of the total workforce lives in the Metro East area, although he did state that 85 percent of the minority workers were local.

This isn't the first time the region has seen protests for minority employment rights. From the time Percy Green climbed up the side of the Gateway Arch in 1964 to the time Al Sharpton blocked I-70 in 1999 to the time Jamilah Nasheed sat on the MetroLink tracks in 2003, racial disparities on government works projects have been a consistent fault line in St. Louis.

In all of those cases, the two sides eventually found compromise.


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17 comments
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Anon
Anon

They already removed the auto deck from the MacArthur Bridge that led into East St. Louis to make it harder for criminals to escape back to their homes, I say just shut down the new bridge project, and use the money to pave over East St. Louis.

Guest
Guest

Or call in an airstrike and be done with these brown skinned terrorists

Vox
Vox

Blacks are 13% of the population but to hear it from them and race traitor White liberals you would think they were 50% of the population. So knowing this, if there's 100 workers on the jobsite 13 could be black (but only if they're qualified).

Pissed off and out of work
Pissed off and out of work

You know who doesen't make money durring a "protest" THE PROTESTERS!!! Eveyone is hard up for money. This is petty politics! Suck it up. If you want to take off work for your race, fine. I belive in the motto: "If you wont work, we will find people that will" Fuck off with your racial crap! I want someone that can build a bridge regardless of color or creed!

Working hard
Working hard

IDOT hires contractors who in turn hire people such as this lady.  She should focus on getting hired by a contractor, not IDOT.    What I don't understand is why if someone has lived through two generations of welfare, would continue the cycle and impose it on two kids she had without having a means to support them.   She obviously doesn't like being on welfare.  Why not go to school and get a job first.

Kitty
Kitty

Maybe I should go protest at a construction site because I can't find a job as an architect.  Welcome to the recession!  A lot of us are out of work.

Fflet121
Fflet121

To add these minority workers to the job, you either fire white workers to make room for them, or you featherbed the job with useless hangers on.

Alex
Alex

Just curious how the system works.   Do people like Miss Dent see a notice and apply for a job or does IDOT have construction project workers already in place.  You would think they would tap into the prep training program graduates if need be, unless they didn't score well.

On another note,  what kind of job will the young men find on the street corner?  What's the point of hanging out on the corner?    The best thing for young men and women to do if they cannot get themselves out of a blighted crap hole like East St. Louis and have no future would be to join the army, navy, marines, air force or coast guard, or just the reserves.  They could earn a living, learn a trade or get a degree,  grow up and be all they can be and enjoy lifelong benefits after their service is finished.    There is always a risk of casualty as there is in standing on the corner waiting for a drive-by.   They would be doing an appreciated service to their country and wouldn't have the time to add more babies into the welfare system.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Because what we need is more military spending for fighting foreign "wars" we have no fucking business being in besides generating revenue for the "defense" industry. "Hanging out on the corner" makes more money for these young men and women than "doing an appreciated service" ever would. And if you believe that the majority of people value serving their fellow man over money, then I *would* ask for a one-way ticket for that fantasy world you're living in but I fear I'd get tired of hearing the veiled stereotypical bullshit such as "wouldn't have the time to add more babies into the welfare system." Eat a piping hot bowl of dicks, sir.

Raven
Raven

How do people hanging out on a street corner instead of working make any money??    Lemonade stand??   You're an idiot.   So you are advocating street corner lingering instead of people going out and making something of themselves and educating themselves??    Your mentality is exactly the problem.

Raven
Raven

I was giving the people hanging out on the corners the benefit of doubt that they perhaps had a respectable income.  Since Anonymous thinks that selling drugs and hooking is better than joining the service with the potential to be a college graduate or to learn a legal trade which could benefit them after the service,  I really didn't want to point out the extreme obvious what a dumb ass moron oblivious to the bullshit mentality that is holding these corner dwellers back from escaping a vicious cycle of loser, uneducated, baby producing wastes of society that are probably selling drugs to kids.  

your mom's mom
your mom's mom

Hanging out on a corner = selling drugs or your body.  Learn to read between the lines sometimes.  But of course if you could do that you wouldn't be an RFT commenter.

Minor Tyrant
Minor Tyrant

The minority minimums are outdated and they should be increased however Dent's statement of "This is a 100 percent black city..."is flat out wrong.

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