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Obama Presidential Center – How Black Will It Be? – Part 2

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford

This monumental piece of construction and architecture is well into the planning phase. The architects have been named and the interviewing phase for the Construction Management should be announced within the next couple of months. So far, I see nothing that would lead me to believe that diversity is going to be a focus point for this $1.3 billion project. This may become a typical Chicago-style construction project. That means virtually no Black employment or contracting. The fact that the Chicago market is ripe for discrimination makes this a dismal outlook to begin with. Corruption and discrimination are “first cousins.” The construction market of Chicago is, perhaps, the most concentrated form of construction discrimination in the United States. The crime and blight of this city is “fanned” by this sorry fact.

This dismal state makes Black employment in the Windy City anemic. Black neighborhoods bleed from it. This project will become a case study about the effects of Jim Crow-style discrimination in the 21st century. It is important that we show how awful things are when construction unions “rule the day” in an urban center. It is almost a certainty that this endeavor will be declared a “Project Labor Agreement” which means union rules will be applied. PLA’s are expensive, disruptive, and discriminatory. This was one of the big complaints when the City of Chicago competed for the 2016 Olympics. They said there will be a PLA on the construction and that led to many people saying they didn’t want it to come to Chicago.

President Obama is a big fan of construction unions. He will be determined to put a PLA on this project and that will have a terrible effect on his legacy. Maybe this will be a very important moment for our Black architectural and construction companies. We are going to call it out systematically and perhaps file discrimination lawsuits as the ugly truth will emerge.

I hope I am not sounding too depressing, but my people, this is real! The City of Chicago is over 60% minority. Any major construction project will not employ more than 8% Black employment participation. It can’t get any higher because the employment rolls of the union trades do not have sufficient numbers of Blacks participating. This will not change until one day the U.S. Department of Labor starts decertifying construction unions for discrimination. When will that happen? The Department of Labor is part of this problem. The minority population of this nation is over 30% but you won’t see an assigned goal for any project to exceed 12%. That is not equal employment opportunity! 30% population versus 12% goals is a clear indication of why the unemployment levels for Blacks and other minorities are significantly higher than for whites.

Our mission must be to make this major construction event different than the norm. It is time to stop taking it Black people! After the last major expansion of Midway Airport in Chicago, a “whistle blower” sent me the final EEO report for the project. This is what I wrote after reading the report: “I once received the final EEO-1 report on Midway Airport (Chicago) after their last major addition which was construction via a Project Labor Agreement. The report showed very little Black participation and very little local employment for the City of Chicago. It was amazing that a large city that is majority minority had so little minority representation. There were a noticeable number of workers from Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. The people of Chicago were ripped off. Oh! If they only knew which one of their employees slipped a copy of their report to me?”

This time we aren’t going to wait for the final report. We will get reports periodically and will vigorously announce to the public just where they are in terms of diversity. If they can’t be representative of the population of Chicago, we will go to court. Yes, we should set up our own Monitoring Team. As the reports come out we will decide on the proper steps, if any, to take.

People of Chicago! Don’t do like Detroit did when they built brand-new football and baseball stadiums. Detroit is 83% Black but could not get more than 8% Black employment on the projects. Contracting did not reach 3%. How about the recent Levi stadium for the San Francisco 49’ers football team? They could not get more than 1.6% in minority contracting. This is evil! Why does the National Football League Players Association stand for this? The league is predominantly Black. The same goes for the National Basketball Association. Shame on them! NO MORE PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENTS!!!

Will there be shame on Chicago this time? Only if we let them.

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ®. Website: Email: [email protected] 

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