The Informational Meeting on the Howard El Station Renovation was introduced by Joe Moore and guest speakers in three parts.
1. The actual update on CTA construction and timetable
2. The possibility of employment opportunities
3. The road for job seekers to follow
The renovation project, which has been underway for the last three weekends, will span approximately three years according to Marvin Watson, CTA and Mike Gould, project manager from McHugh Construction – general contractor for this project. Currently, the tracks are being rebuilt from Friday evenings through early Monday mornings. The Howard station will remain open throughout this project. There may be detours to board trains when construction begins on the platforms. The entrance on Howard/Paulina will be rehabbed from what I understood from the presentation. One question to the weekend closing of the westbound lanes on Howard was brought to the meeting by Amy Campbell on behalf of business owners. Their concern is that business is ‘dying’ with the weekend detours as most people shop on weekends. Mr. Gould responded that of the three year construction plan, the road will be closed 12 weekends (3 which are in past tense).
Next, we were taken into the sensitive zone known as the subject of employment. Moore stated he was still committed to working with the CTA in providing jobs to locals, had worked out a program and there would be pre-apprenticeship training available through HACC and other organizations and their combined resources. Mr. Gould also contributed to this zone stating that there would be no more than 25-30 people working at any given time. Unlike other projects, the Howard renovation does not include any retail construction as in the Wilson Yard project, therefore, fewer employees are required. The number of employees needed would be part of the preliminary specs, so why would any group be promising jobs that may not be available in large numbers?
This is a union project and already 8 of the 20 available positions have been filled by union card holders. Joan Archie of the Chicago Urban League referred to unions as a ‘closed shop’ and the League’s position is to hold the CTA’s feet to the fire to ensure neighbors are given the opportunity to qualify for available jobs in the area. Union card holders were urged to apply immediately. There will be a need for specialized workers, i.e. electricians, iron workers, but they must hold or qualify for the prized union card(s). A high school education or GED is required. For residents in a geographic local job area, applicants must be tested on various skills, some requiring algebra and trigonometry. Math is a must. As with any job application, one must also pass the mandatory drug test.
Job seekers may also enter through ‘sponsorship’ if they know a contractor who feels comfortable in sponsoring them. However, the same skill sets and education levels would apply.
John King, Organization of the Northeast, spoke of their collaboration with Ald. Schiller in the 46th ward on the Wilson Yard Project with the City of Chicago. In turn, by providing jobs to local area residents, the City is agreeable to expanding this program to Rogers Park projects moving forward. Pam Jones of the Heartland Alliance discussed the process of competence testing, re-testing and qualifying and the cost of training. Charles Hardwick, HACC, stated their organization also worked in conjunction with O.N.E. on Schiller’s 46th ward project. Hardwick stated matter of factly that HACC has been open for years and any qualified protesters could have had their union cards three years ago. The cost of the training for TIF jobs is $2,000/per person and is paid by the Heartland to Dawson via the TIF for jobs fund. Both HACC and the Heartland are already contracted through the City of Chicago and are not receiving TIF dollars for any of the training. Preliminary testing is conducted at HACC, those who pass are processed through the Heartland Alliance to Truman College for necessary courses to enter into Dawson Technical Institute. HACC will pay for transportation to attend courses.
Northside Power members held an outdoor rally before the meeting. Everyone in attendance heard and saw the drama that unfolded in the meeting. Their claim to have spent 18 months to attain the job training program seemed exaggerated. The group was recruiting people in February 2005, and did not have a real action plan at that time. When questions were put to Mr. R as to what his plan was, (in early 2005) I was informed ‘that’s how grass roots organizations are’, plan as you go. But they claim Moore lied to them and it became apparent that NSP misled their group into thinking there would be more than 20-25 jobs available. So does it balance now? Rather than celebrating the fact the CTA and City are willing to employ some who qualify, we witnessed the usual anger, the unnecessary ‘amen’ and the staged performances. Reinforcing the willingness of Chicago to work with and train area residents was Will Edwards of the Mayors office…as determined by powers other than Northside or Moore. Apparently more homework was needed on both sides?
I saw some people rallying whom I’ve seen on the streets for almost four years. HACC has been on Howard with their job training signs long before my residency. Also emphasized, HACC is contracted, accredited, and is NOT receiving any TIF dollars for their efforts to work with anyone seriously seeking employment. According to the discussions no community organizations are receiving TIF dollars through the City other than The Dawson Institute for job training. Perhaps everyone will re-group and hopefully stress other upcoming construction jobs such as the field house when we receive an update from Moore and the PBC.