EAST ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–Protestors planning a September 16 shutdown of construction work on the new Mississippi River bridge project — in hopes of getting more black workers hired — are inviting Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to join their act of civil disobedience.
“We are going to invite Governor Quinn,” said East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks, “because Governor Quinn is someone who really has a fondness for this community. We now need him to take a stand for us.”
Talks broke down between the Illinois State Transportation Department and a group representing local black mayors and the Metro East Black Contractors Association.
Protestors want 50 percent of the workers on the $700 million dollar bridge project to be African American.
IDOT released a statement defending its efforts to increase minority participation in the project:
“The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) met with representatives of MEBCO for more than four hours on Monday Aug. 29, the third meeting with the group in four weeks. IDOT briefed the group on the very strong participation numbers to date on all Mississippi River Bridge projects, where minority workers made up about 35 percent of the total workers on the job as of August 29, and account for 23 percent of the man hours worked on Mississippi River Bridge jobs to date, both significantly higher than the federal participation goals of 14.7 percent on the MRB projects. About 85 percent of the minority workers on MRB projects live in the Metro East area, and those workers have performed about 85 percent of the total work hours by minorities. More than 90 percent of the minority workers on MRB projects are African-American.
“IDOT is proud of its record of minority participation in all aspects of the Mississippi River Bridge projects, and intends to continue its efforts to further improve minority participation as much as possible. IDOT is committed to working with all community groups on participation opportunities and issues.”
In a news conference announcing the planned shutdown, Parks said he expects participation from the mayors of several area towns with majority black populations and high unemployment rates. Those towns include — Allerton, Brooklyn, Centerville, Cahokia, Washington Park and Venice.
Parks says letters and phone calls are also going out to invite the mayors of surrounding towns with mostly white populations. Those towns include — Belleville, Collinsville and Edwardsville and Fairview Heights.
Parks says St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has also been invited to show his support.
“State Representative Eddie Lee Jackson will probably be there,” Parks said, “I also anticipate that Senator James Clayborne will be there. We have very keen interest from the Transportation Committee Chair of the House Dan Beiser of Alton. So, I expect Dan Beiser to be somewhere nearby. We expect Martin Sandoval, who is the Senate Transportation Committe Chair, to be there.”
When asked if he expects Governor Quinn to lock arms with protestors and participate in a demonstration against his own state highway department, Parks was hopeful.
“I think that Governor Quinn can impact a positive change,” Parks said.
Protestors say the project has frustrated surrounding towns, as white construction workers from out of the region have been brought in to work, while qualified black contractors are excluded.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than having young men and women who graduated from the (training) program,” Parks said, “and watch them sitting on the sidelines and knowing that they should be working.
The planned protest is modelled after a 1999 shutdown of construction work on Interstate 70 in north St. Louis. That protest resulted in more work for African American contractors.