By Lee Edwards
Black Workers Matters protestors braved below freezing temperatures to send a message to plastics supplier and manufacturing company, Mercury Plastics, Inc.: Discriminatory hiring practices will not be tolerated on Chicago's West Side.
The movement — launched over a year ago in response to repeated instances of unfair wage-cutting, hiring discrimination, and unsafe working conditions throughout the Chicagoland area — prompted a band of workers to organize the group, according to Anthony Stewart, one of its founders.
Over a dozen BWM protestors marched, held signs and chanted for equal opportunity employment in front of Mercury Plastics' 150,000 sq. ft. headquarters, located in Chicago's Hermosa neighborhood at 4535 W. Fullerton Ave.
The protest quickly moved inside the building to the main lobby, where multiple requests to speak with Rick Goldman, Mercury Plastics president and CEO, were denied by the company's human resource personnel. After the final request was denied, protestors momentarily chanted, "Black workers matter!" before dispersing.
Mercury Plastics, Inc., a supplier of custom thermoplastic plastic, fabrication and printing services, according to its website, has come under fire in the past for perceived racism. A group of African American men filed a federal class-action lawsuit against MVP Staffing, a temporary hiring agency, and other companies, Mercury Plastics included, on the basis of racial discrimination practices against African American applicants in favor of Hispanics, according to a December 2016 report by The New York Times.
Hassan Blanch, another founder of BWM, said that he and other protestors have spoken with current and former employees of Mercury Plastics and discovered that still very few, if any, hail from predominantly African American communities on Chicago's West Side. He said Mercury Plastics' employees should reflect the residents of the community in which it resides.
"We had a discrimination issue and we came together and politicked, took care of business and won," said Blanch. "We're back again dealing with the same issues."
Marquis Sheppard, 21, a former employee at Mercury Plastics was front and center during the protest. He believes he was unfairly terminated due to the color of his skin. The Austin resident claims his work performance was under consistent high scrutiny despite positive results during his month of employment. Since that time he's been unable to have a discussion with hiring personnel at Mercury Plastics or the temp agency that employed him. He said he believes in BWM's effort to highlight discrimination.
"It seems like they're only hiring from one part of the West Side of Chicago and leaving the other one out and that's not right," said Sheppard. "It really irks me, it really angers me inside but what can I do? I'm not an alderman, I'm not in the state Senate, I don't have the upper-hand but what I try to do is get my voice heard and try to put my feet to the ground and make an impact."
David Goldman, Mercury Plastics manager and son of Rick Goldman, offered a statement of "no comment" to Austin Weekly News after the conclusion of the protest.
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