East St. Louis: Hire locals, or we'll shut bridge project down

Belleville News DemocratSeptember 3, 2011 

Mayor Alvin Parks and a group of black contractors, residents and local pastors said they plan to shut down work on the new Mississippi River Bridge project Friday because talks between community leaders and the state have broken off.

Neither Parks nor others at a news conference Friday would discuss exactly how, or whether, their actions would lead to any traffic disruptions.

"Unfortunately, it has come to this," Parks said.

They talked at length about why they plan to protest.

Parks and several local pastors, elected officials, community members and members of the Metro-East Black Contractors Organization said they are sick and tired of watching outsiders come into their community to get construction jobs, while they have one after another from the community who are unemployed coming to them.

Bill Mason, president of MEBCO, is disturbed that those individuals who have graduated from the Illinois Department of Transportation Highway Construction Preparatory Training program are not getting the opportunity to work.

"They call me on a daily basis or come to my office about jobs. I encourage them to keep hoping," Mason said.

A number of the graduates, Mason said, were recruited off street corners. He said he doesn't want to see them return to that life. But, he said if a person can't pay his rent or feed his family, there is no telling what he will do.

Parks said Illinois Department of Transportation leaders on Monday walked out of a meeting with a federal mediator present. He said the action came as members of MEBCO and other leaders were trying to make their case for increased minority participation in the project to put another four traffic lanes across the Mississippi River.

Parks said that level of disrespect from IDOT at the meeting has led black leaders to elevate the issue with plans for a shutdown. Parks put out a call for his fellow colleagues in Belleville, Swansea, Collinsville, Maryville and everywhere to join in. Parks described the issue with a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Parks said letters were sent to many elected officials. He said St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern is standing with East St. Louis and that his office would reach out to Gov. Pat Quinn, who he called a friend of East St. Louis.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service