EAST ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–The threatened civil disobedience to shut down work on the new Mississippi River Bridge has been averted – as a federal mediator works to increase minority participation on the project.
The news came after a three hour, closed-door meeting with local and state power brokers at East St. Louis City Hall.
Mayor Alvin Parks and the Acting Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation Ann Schneider both described the meeting as “encouraging.”
“I think we agree on the goals,” Schneider said, “Our goals are the same that we want to see increased minority participation in both the work force and the contracting community on the new Mississippi River bridge project.”
At a public hearing just ahead of the meeting, Mayor Alvin Parks voiced his support for protestors who had planned to interrupt construction soon as Tuesday, unless IDOT would abandon its position of 14.6 percent minority participation and allow for 50 percent of workers to be black.
But after the meeting, Parks softened his tone and seemed to avoid setting specific goals.
“We want to see more people from East St. Louis and the surrounding communities intricately involved in this project,” Parks said.
Frustration has been rising among local black construction workers who feel they’ve been shut out of the project.
Laborer Elliot Reliford spoke at a public hearing earlier in the day at city hall. He told the crowd that he has 14 years experience, has been out of work two years, and has been seeking a job on the project for three months.
”You’ve got all this work out here and we can’t get no work,” Reliford said, “That don’t make sense to me. I don’t know about the politics of it all, but I’m about to lose my house, my kids don’t look up to me, my wife’s about to leave me. And I think it’s ridiculous.”
Dr. William E. Mason and Attorney Eric Vickers are involved in the talks on behalf of the Metro East Black Contractors Organization. Mason and Vickers also voiced optimism that the federal mediation will get results.
Plans call for work to continue on the bridge while talks continue, but no new contracts will be let until a settlement is reached. Both sides hope to reach an agreement by mid-September. If talks collapse, the threatened civil disobedience could be re-scheduled.