Austin residents and activists protested last Thursday outside a construction firm they say isn’t employing enough West Siders.
Nearly 50 people met at 900 W. Adams, then walked about a block west to Walsh Construction. There they gathered in the lobby holding signs and asked for a meeting to present a list of demands and to build a partnership to help Austin residents get construction jobs on the West Side and rest of the city.
Two Walsh Construction’s executives agreed to meet with the group on June 4.
Virgil Crawford of the Westside Health Authority said the company’s response left him feeling hopeful.
“Our cause is righteous, our cause is just; we have a right to be here, we have a right to speak out,” Crawford insisted. “It is no secret that when we go throughout our community and you see construction work being done, the workers on those sites do not reflect our community. That ain’t right.”
But Douglas Rai Cunningham, director of corporate diversity for Walsh Construction, Cunningham said his company isn’t currently doing construction work on the West Side, nor is it involved on the multi-million dollar Eisenhower Expressway resurfacing project.
The Ike project, which is scheduled to be completed later this year, is a source of frustration for the Austin group.
“We don’t have a problem with meeting and hearing their concerns, we don’t have a problem with talking,” Cunningham said. “But the reality is this economy is really bad. We are looking at close to 40 percent unemployment in the trade. There is no work. We are laying off people, not hiring them.”
Crawford said he doesn’t buy that, maintaining that he sees construction taking place throughout the city of Chicago every day.
“The point of there being no jobs, I mean we all have eyes, we can see. So I don’t quite accept the notion that there are no jobs,” he said.
Still, Crawford, along with Rev. Michael Stinson of General Assembly Church, say they feel confident the meeting will give them the opportunity to build a partnership with Walsh Construction.
Peter Glimco, the company’s general counsel, said a future partnership is not something Walsh Construction is opposed to but reiterated there are no jobs.
“We have to be honest, and we don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture. We are not hiring because there is no work. The notion that there is something beyond that is absurd-there is no work and that’s it,” he said.
Crawford vowed that the group will keep working on the issue and plans to talk to local alderman and other elected officials.