CTA officials vow to hire blacks for $425 million Red Line project


And officials say: ‘Fronts need not apply’


By Chinta Strausberg


While $425 million Red Line South Reconstruction project may temporarily disrupt the surrounding communities, CTA officials have committed to hiring African Americans for both jobs and construction contracts but issued a warning to potential fronts that they need not apply.

Recently speaking before about 100 people at the Quinn AME Chapel, 2401 So. Wabash, the site of an underground railroad headed by Rev. James Moody, CTA officials along with the Chicago Urban League announced that there are still jobs available for this Cermak-Chinatown to 95th/Dan Ryan project that starts in May of this year.

Those wanting a job on this project should call the Chicago Urban League at: 773.285.5800. “We definitely want the hiring to reflect the community,” said Gerald Nichols, CTA’s community liaison. “We don’t want go out there and see if there are 15 jobs that 5 are African Americans. It’s got to be reflective.”

 “This leg of the CTA first opened in 1969 when Richard Nixon was president and a gallon of gas cost .35-cents a gallon,” said Nichols.

Officials from the CTA attended the meeting as a result of inquiries made by the Coalition of African American Leaders (C.O.A.L.), headed by Clarence Wood, and business icon Ed Gardner who is demanding that 50 percent of the public works jobs go to African Americans.

Wood told the audience, “There are some long-term goals that we all must ask and that all of you have raised today. We will begin to work on those issues and we will be holding some meetings to deal with those issues….

“All of the kinds of things that have been raised here today that we don’t believe will happen, it is in our best interests and our responsibility to mobilize and organized to make sure that they do happen. We cannot expect systems that have not worked for the black community to work for the black community unless the black community insist that those systems work on our behalf,” Wood said.

“C.O.A.L. is committed to seeing this project be successful with the goals of hiring more African Americans both as workers on the project and as contractors or sub-contractors, but we also have a long term goal that of ensuring that unions are challenged as to their hiring practices, making sure they train people so that they move through the apprenticeship to the journeyman’s program and are available to work on the kinds of jobs we have here,” said Wood.

“One of the things that we do have to do is to establish some firms that can be the prime contractors on these types of jobs so that we are not always reliant on firms from out of the city or firms that are not minority or black-owned businesses,” said Wood vowing to focus on this goal.

Asked when will the project begin, Nichols said the shutdown of the Red Line Reconstruction project would occur on Sunday, May 19, 2013, from 22nd Street to 95th Street. “We will be putting in new rails, new ballast (the stone material that holds the ties in place), and we’re going to tear up the entire drainage. We’re rebuilding from the ground up, and it’s going to take five-months to do it,” he explained.

CTA’s goal is to improve travel time and convenience for the South Side riders. Some of the stations will get new canopies, others are scheduled to get painted, bike racks and lighting.

Having been built in 1969, Nichols said there are a number of slow zones along the Red Line. “In some areas you can go on a bike and go faster than some of our trains…. We are going to be putting in new elevators at three stations, Garfield, 63rd Street and 87th Street to make our entire line along that corridor…” compliant.

Shari Runner, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Community Development for the Chicago Urban League which has been working with the CTA to ensure “they have the proper amount of minority participation on the contracting side as well as on the hiring side.”

According to Runner, there will be about 250 track work positions and the required minority hiring number is about 50. “We’re actually pushing them to hire more than the required minimum on this job.” She believes there will be about 125 positions for the station work. “The minority minimums are something like 15 to 20,” she said.

Runner said these are union jobs and that they will be paid union rates.

Omar Brown, general manager of Diversity for the CTA, explained “If you’re specifically looking to work on the Red Line, you have to go to the Red Line, but the CTA has several different positions open including flag man, track man, customer service assistance, part-time bus operators, bus servicers and mail car servicers. Those positions are open and on our website.” Brown said the CTA is hiring from 40-50 people each week.

The CTA’s website is: www.Chicagotransit.com.

Asked about the impact on the communities along the Red Line, Runner said, “The people who are going to be impacted the most by the shutdown of the rail line are in certain areas that line the footprint of the Red Line. Those people who use the Red Line are the ones we’re trying to get the hiring done from. Those are the zip codes we’re looking at.”

Mary Person, CTA compliance monitor for the Red Line project, said she would be doing site visits, will be constantly in touch with the primes and monitor their certification. “We are the ones that monitor and make sure that there are no pass-through’s or fronts.”

When asked how will he ensure there are no fronts on this massive project, Brown made it clear that the CTA would not tolerate any front companies.

“The fronts actually starts in the beginning when you certify a firm. To ensure there are no fronts, you beef up certification. When you certify a firm, they really are who they say they are and they have the capabilities and the ability to get the work done and they’ve done prior projects. That is the first step in eliminating fronts is to certify firms that have actually can do and have done the work,” said Brown. He will have people on site to ensure there are no fronts. “We are not tolerating any fronts,” said Brown referring to questions about phony firms.

And Person, who is one of three compliance officers, said her team would be on site checking ID’s, trucks including examining their payrolls. “We keep in constant contact with our prime contractors.”

Craig K. Wimberly, chair, Public Policy for the Coalition of African American Leaders (C.O.A.L.), said what is critical is that “we have to manage the expectations of our community. All of the work we’re doing is good work, and it is going to push the CTA to meet its targets….

“We have to focus on the longer term to change some policies and practices like the city, state and the county but also to build our businesses so that they can…not fight over set asides. I think the community is ready for that,” said Wimberly. “This is a good start for the community working together to hold folk accountable to make things happen.”

Ernest Sawyer, who is one of the construction management firms on the Red Line project, said, “There is a lot of unemployment in the community. People are suffering and need jobs, and I think more involvement of the contractors letting the community know who they have hired and where the opportunities are and how they can access those opportunities would help a lot.”

Sawyer, who’s firm is working with the construction management firm in terms of managing the project in construction between the CTA and the contractor, would like for the CTA to bring their contractors to the community.

During this reconstruction project, the Red Line will be completely shut down after Roosevelt Road to 95th Street for five months. Upon completion, travel time will reportedly be reduced by 20 percent per round trip. There will also be new elevators at Garfield, 63rd and 87th Street stations.

Allaying fears that African Americans may get shortchanged on this expansive project, Brown said there are two primary contractors, F.H. Paschen Company and Kiewit Track both being DBE participants but there are African American sub-contractors partnering with each company.

For the Kiewit Track Company, (goal 28%) the DBE participants are: AGB Security from Harvey providing security services, E. King Construction from Chicago providing trucking and hauling of miscellaneous material and equipment, Gaffney’s Protective Maintenance, Inc., from Batavia, furnishing and installing DC cable and termination, installation for DC switches, furnish and installing rail chairs; GW Peoples, from Arlington, VA, doing railroad track construction; Folashades Cleaning Services from Lansing, doing cleaning services; Production Distribution from Chicago supplying lighting fixtures cable disconnect switches conduit and contact rail; Target Electric, Inc., Oak Forest, Furnishing and installing signal cable AC cable and duct; Terrell Materials Corp, Chicago, Removing and reinstalling drainage and duct bank and Trim’s Trucking, Inc., from Harvey semi dump hauling and trucking.

The DBE’s for F.H. Paschen Station (goal 40%) are: Apex Elevator, from Dolton, providing elevator work, Bridgeport Steel, Chicago, steel fabrication, Darryl’s trucking, Richton Park, Trucking; Dynamic wrecking & Excavation, South Holland, Excavation and Demolition, Garth Construction, Chicago Heights, Masonry, site preparation, traffic control; Glass Mgmt. Architectural Glass, Westmont, Aluminum Store Front & Skylight; Kate’s Detective Services, Chicago, Security; Livewire Electrical Systems, Inc., Oak Forest, Retrofit Station Lighting; M Cannon Roofing Schaumburg, roofing; Shawn Brown Enterprises, Inc., Chicago, abatement; Target Electric, Oak Forest, retrofit station lighting and Vision Painting & Decorating Service, Inc., Chicago, Paint and Lead Abatement.

According to Nichols, the Red Line South Reconstruction project is not the last CTA initiative. “Right after we finish this Red Line in October, we’re going to be doing the 95th Street station and that’s going to be another $240 million that we’re going to put out here on the South Side of Chicago. Right after that, we’re going to put another $188 million on Wilson Avenue….”

The state and local funding provided the funding for this project.

To accommodate the thousands of riders along this route, CTA officials say they will offer alternative travel options to minimize the impact of these closures.

But during this construction period, Paula Robinson, managing partner for the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership, is looking for long-term opportunities from the Red Line shutdown. She is developing a hospitality hub at the 55th Station where the busses will all shuttle in.

“That shuttle station is going to increase from 1500 commuters a day to 15,000 a day and while there is going to be a big bottleneck and a lot of angry people, we see it as an opportunity to turn it around and say, ‘welcome to Bronzeville,’ and get our tour busses and our youth looking for summer exposure to the hospitality/travel industry so we become those greeters to what is Bronzeville’s western gateway,” said Robinson.

And, Michelle Vance Ingram, an employment placement specialist for the Community Assistance Programs (CAPS), provides job readiness within the community. “Our motto is to create a community workforce.” She has three offices, in Chatham, in Roseland and in Chicago Heights. “I have been sending a lot of our job trainees to the Chicago Urban League, and we have also been involved in the apprenticeship program with CTA for ex-offenders.”

Ingram wants to get ex-offenders jobs on the Red-Line project along with the long-term unemployed. “We need to get them ready to be able to compete to get a job,” she said.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.