Father Pfleger, Black Leaders put CTA Union Boss on Notice ‘Don’t be a Scrooge’

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Pfleger, Rush, Leaders Say Local 308 Prez ‘Pimping’ Ex-felons in Contract Fight

Called him “Scrooge” and a “Terrorist”

By Chinta Strausberg

Led by Father Michael L. Pfleger, a group of elected officials and community activists Thursday blasted Local #308 Amalgamated Transit Union President Robert Kelly for attempting to eliminate an apprentice ex-felon program that will cause 65 employees to lose their jobs from a successful six-year second chance CTA program.

Just 13-days before Christmas, Kelly is accused of trying to “pimp” a CTA ex-felon program that has given those with criminal records a second chance on life.  At a press conference held at Kelly’s office, 205 West Wacker Drive, Pfleger said the program will end on December 31, 2013 unless the union approves of its continuance. He said the CTA does not have the authority to maintain the program.

When Kelly recently met with community residents, Father Pfleger said  Kelly allegedly “leaned back in his chair and said, ‘It looks like I have all of the power here.’ “That is how arrogant and disrespectful he is. No, Mr. Kelly, you do not hold all of the power. The power is in the community,” Pfleger said.

With Christmas music and partying being played in the lobby of the 205 West Wacker Drive building, when Pfleger and his supporters arrived a building manager asked Father Pfleger to leave the building because the property was private and that they were not welcomed especially since there was a Christmas party going on.

However, the popular priest refused to budge including when the manager later called the police who just stood watching the press conference continue. Instead, he spoke louder over the Christmas songs coming from the holiday party held in the lobby.

Joining Father Pfleger were Father Thulani Magwaza from Saint Sabina, Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-1st), Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26th), City Council Black Caucus Chairman Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), Aldermen Eugene Sawyer (6th), Walter Burnett (27th), Latasha Thomas (17th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Cherita Logan from Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) office, and activists Eddie Read, chairman of the Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC), Henry English, president of the Black United Fund of Illinois, Maurice Perkins, President of the Inner City Youth & Adult Foundation, Rev. Gregory Daniels, president of United Voters of Truth and Change and others.

Expressing disappointment and outrage at Kelly, Rep. Rush said if the CTA program were fully engaged it would potentially benefit 265 families. Referring to the 65 families currently affected by Kelly’s vow to end the program, Rush spoke about the ongoing celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela but said Kelly “spits on the legacy and the memory of Nelson Mandela who lived his life so that workers would have access to jobs….”

Rush said he will be working with the Illinois congressional delegation and will write a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and others seeking intervention on behalf of the 65 whose jobs are on the chopping block. Rush said these employees “have done everything and paid their dues to society. They’ve done everything right. All they want is a fighting chance….

“We intend to not sleep, not celebrate. We continue to fight to give these 65 apprentices a fighting chance. We’re going to take on the union and anybody who are sympathetic to these hard-hearted, callous union leaders who are playing scrooge on this Christmas…,” said Rush.

Father Pfleger said Kelly “is acting like a terrorist and the hostages are the 65 lives. We want to expand this program. It’s been going since 2007. We hear Christmas carols in the background while he is getting ready to fire people after Christmas.

“He is using this as a political ploy because” Kelly failed to get what he wanted from CTA management, Pfleger told reporters. Having been meeting on this issue since July 13th, Pfleger said, “What issues you have with (CTA) management, that is what unions do. He gets paid in order to fight those issues out with management. He does not get paid to hold hostage 65 lives who are people returning to the community and did the right thing.

“What kind of message are you sending to Chicago to somebody coming out of the joint that suddenly says I want to do the right thing and all we’re doing is firing or laying them off. You’re telling them you might as well go back to doing what you did because this society is not ready to let you in,” Pfleger said.

Sending Kelly a message, Pfleger said, “We’re going to stand up and fight for these 65 workers. We want Mr. Kelly to make this thing happen…let it go beyond the 31st…. Separate this from your other issues. Don’t use this as your wild card….”

Pfleger said they are there representing the workers. “What do you do when your union representative doesn’t stand up for you? He is letting down his own union members and all the other unions had better know if he’ll do it them, he’ll do it to anybody…,” vowing to come back with more supporters. Pfleger called on the AFL/CIO “needs to step in, pull him by the tail and tell him to do the right thing here.”

When told that Local #308 accuses the CTA leadership of trying to get rid of the program, Pfleger said, “That’s the old game…. I asked him (Mr. Kelly) let the program continue.” Pfleger said Kelly told him, “No, they have to negotiate with me.” Pfleger said Kelly wanted to meet with CTA President Forrest Claypool who reported agreed.

“Work the damn thing out,” said Pfleger. “That is what unions and management do. Work it out, but keep it out of your different dirty laundry you want to fight back and forth with. This is about lives.”

Rush, who talked to Claypool yesterday, said the CTA president is supporting this program. Burnett said the union is using “it as negotiations with this contract” and said they are using the program as a bargaining chip to get what they want.

Read said Kelly “is very disrespectful and very antagonistic.” Saying the program needs to be expanded, Read said, “It should be used as a model for other governmental agencies. This is the right thing to do….” “You take away food stamps. They can no longer get benefits. What do you expect them to do”? “If we don’t work, nobody works,” said Read.

Brookins quoted a recent statistic “that white men with felonies were more apt to be called back to employment than African Americans without a felony background.” He asked, “What does that say for African Americans and Latinos who had felonies in their background and want to change their lives around in our communities.

“This program being fought against by the unions here is going to decimate our community. This is a program that has been working that is giving people a second opportunity to be on the path of upstanding law-abiding citizens,” Brookins said.

Ald. Sawyer said, “We need to increase the number of jobs” under this program. Agreeing was Mr. Read who also said the union should expand not end this program. He called on union officials to replace Kelly with someone “who will do the right thing.”

Saying this is personal, Rep. Mitchell said he had an aunt who was wrongfully accused of a crime when he was young and who “spent the rest of her life trying to recover.” He said the CTA ex-felon program is what ex-felons need for a fresh start.

“Once a person has rehabilitated themselves, we can’t kick them to the side,” said Ald. Thomas. “We have to continue to allow them to have that second chance….”

Agreeing was Mr. English who said, “We must give our returning citizens an opportunity to become productive citizens. This program has a proven track record…. We need more programs like this.” Saying he has been a card-carrying union member most of his life, English added, “I can’t understand why a union would stand in the way of progress, stand in the way of citizens trying to redeem themselves.”

From West Englewood, Daniels, who said he helps get 85 percent of ex-felons into the construction industry, said, “We think it is a shame for Bob Kelly to run…. You can run but you can’t hide.”

Perkins said the CTA ex-felon program must continue. “There needs to be some justice here in Chicago….” He feels five percent of the jobs should go to ex-felons.

“We support jobs over jail,” said Logan. “The congressman is the grandfather of second chance” referring to Rep. Davis’ getting the Second Chance Act passed in 2007.  Logan said while the world is celebrating the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, “How could we do so when he stood for liberation and we’re asking the unions to keep these folks liberated…to keep them with their jobs.”

Burnett said, “I think it is a shame that the union, which I support the union, would use helping ex-offenders get a job as leverage to negotiate their contract. This is unnecessary. This program has been working. The CTA supports it. It is one of the best programs that the mayor and the CTA have initiated…. They pay union dues…. They’re not hurting the unions or the members.”

Burnett said most of the members of Local 308 are minorities. “Most of those members, I guarantee you, have family members who have been incarcerated who need another opportunity to get back on their feet. When you help one person who has been incarcerated, you help a whole family. You help several generations” and our society…. “

“We are a society that represents everyone not just those who haven’t made a mistake but those who have made mistake and are trying to get back on the right track,” said Burnett who is an ex-felon. To the union, he added, “Please don’t pimp the ex-offenders who have jobs with the CTA. Don’t pimp and use them for your negotiations with the CTA…especially at Christmas time…. They’re not outside sticking people up, stealing from folks or hurting themselves.”

Foulkes, who represents West Englewood, accused Kelly of having a “cold heart” and said “it’s time for him to do what’s right and do what he has to do for the people in our community…. Right before Christmas, he decides to do this. How cold is his heart.”

Brookins said the elected officials stood with Pfleger to support a second chance program he says helps Black people “get a second chance in our community.” Brookins said according to a recent study, “white men with felonies were more apt to be called back to employment than African Americans without a felony background. What does that say for African Americans and Latinos who have felonies in their backgrounds and once they change their lives around?

Accusing the union of  “decimating our communities,” Brookins said, “This is a program that has been working, that is giving people a second opportunity to be on the path of upstanding law-abiding citizens….”

Ald. Burnett said, “I think it is a shame that the union will use helping ex-offenders get a job as leverage to negotiate their contract. This is unnecessary,” he said noting that the CTA and the mayor support the program. It is the best program that the mayor and the CTA have initiated.” Burnett said these ex-felons “are not hurting the union, are paying their dues and that the program should be maintained.

“We are a society that represents everyone and not just those who have not made a mistake but those who have made mistakes and want to get back on the right track,” said Burnett. He told Kelly, “Do not pimp the ex-offender who have jobs at the CTA and are doing a good job. Don’t pimp and use them for your negotiations with the CTA…especially at Christmas time.”

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.

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