CHICAGO — Bob Israel said a proposed hiring agreement by Mayor Rahm Emanuel is an insult to blacks.
"I have been a laborer for 10 years and in all that time I have never felt as insulted as I do now," said Israel, president of Save Our Community Coalition, whose members include community activists and black construction workers.
At Wednesday's City Council meeting Emanuel proposed an ordinance that would require contractors performing city-funded construction jobs to hire local neighborhood residents for at least 7.5 percent of labor hours for city funded construction contracts that are worth more than $100,000.
A hiring agreement already exist in Chicago, which require contractors to fill 50 percent of labor hours with work by Chicago residents. And the proposed 7.5 percent would count towards that requirement.
"People in communities across Chicago benefit from the construction projects and infrastructure improvements, and now they will benefit from the jobs and economic impact of these projects,” Emanuel said in a statement. “From Rogers Park to Roseland, if a city construction project is taking place, people from the community will have the opportunity to work on that project.”
Israel complained he's seen city-funded construction job taking place in black neighborhoods that don't used black workers.
"You can't go to white neighborhoods and find construction jobs being performed by an all-black crew but you can go to any black neighborhood and see the exact opposite," Israel, 48, added. "And we are sick and tired of this type of treatment. During slavery blacks were always working but now that they have to pay us, they want to underpay or not hire us at all."
Millionaire businessman Edward Gardner, 81, also feels that the black community got shortchanged by the mayor's proposal.
"I am surprised he would offer something as insignificant as this. It is not adequate at all," Gardner said. "His proposal was embarrassing for the black community. A better offer would be 40 percent to 50 percent."
Gardner, who founded the former Soft Sheen Products Co., met with Emanuel in October about more opportunities for black construction workers.
At that meeting, Emanuel's press secretary, Tarrah Cooper, said the pair "had a positive meeting in which a variety of topics were discussed."
She added that after the meeting Gardner agreed to help the mayor encourage black businesses to bid on city contracts and even thanked the mayor for investing in infrastructure throughout the black community.
Still, Gardner insists the mayor has an obligation to those who helped put him in office.
"I will meet with him again and again until I start to see more black faces at construction sites in black neighborhoods," added Gardner. "The mayor has a responsibility to the black community, a community that put him in office and he needs to understand that."