By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
After encountering a protest led by Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr., who demanded Blacks be hired at the Cermak and Wabash White Castle construction site, the prime contractor and officials from White Castle met with Rainbow PUSH Coalition members Monday, promising to be more diverse in their hiring.
Friday, Jackson and protesters carried signs that said, “Black Workers Matter,” “Share the Work” and “We Want Our Share,” reminding the contractors that Illinois has the highest Black unemployment rate in the nation.
“It is totally unacceptable to have all white construction workers in a Black community,” said Jackson during a press conference held at the site.
“White Castle officials want Black consumers but not Black contractors, brick masons, carpenters and plumbers. Black workers matter. We want our fair share, not welfare,” Jackson told reporters.
“There are thousands of jobs we are locked out of because of racial discrimination. It is intolerable to have all of these jobs and nobody’s working. We want to work. We need to work.
“We will meet with the aldermen. The aldermen should not have allowed them a permit without a commitment to hire Black and brown for this site,” said Jackson.
With no Blacks on the White Castle construction site, Jackson said it reminded him of “apartheid. It’s old-fashioned racial segregation. Some work … others are displaced.”
When Jackson threatened to close down the site, Tim Voss, superintendent and the son of Frank Voss, president of the prime contractor Princeton Builders, Inc. located in Orland Park, called his dad who later showed up at the protest site. Frank Voss agreed to hire two carpenters right away and agreed to meet with Jackson on Monday.
Tim Voss asked for a list of carpenters but said because of their schedule they could not stop the work, which prompted Jackson to say, “We have a schedule too… racial justice and gender equality and we’re behind.”
After continued negotiations under a blazing sun that included Darrin Cotton, district supervisor for White Castle, and Tim and Frank Voss, Jackson agreed not to shut down the site until they met.
Cotton, a Black man who began working for White Castle when he was 16 and currently oversees 10 restaurants in Chicago, said the company is going to hire 60 workers at the Wabash site.
According to Cotton, there are 380 White Castle restaurants in his company, most in the Midwest. There are eight regional White Castle managers; three are Black. Cotton said 70 percent of the employees hired in his region are African American.
Cotton whipped out his cell phone and called Jamie Richardson, vice president of White Castle who told Jackson, “This is a way of life for us. Seventy percent of our workers are African Americans and 55 percent are African American women. We are not going to leave the neighborhoods. We are concerned, committed and proud of our people. We are your friend,“ he told Jackson.
Jackson turned to his supporters and said, “Our marching is not in vain. We’re already winning. They have agreed to hire Black carpenters. We want a policy on hiring, contracting and sub-contracting. We want to share the work. If you see a restaurant with no Black waiters, call us at 773.FREEDOM. Black jobs matter,” Jackson said.
Earlier last Thursday PUSH Coalition officials, led by Omar Shareef, president and founder of the African American Contractors Association, trained 200 people to be certified as flaggers which pays $45 an hour.
Shareef and Reverend Janette Wilson meet each Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at PUSH headquarters. The goal is to demand a fair share of jobs and an equitable slice of the contractual pie on public works projects.
Friday’s protest is the first in a series of actions that will include visiting restaurants and hotels. If there are no African Americans working, the establishments will be shut down.