Friday, July 20, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing In Englewood Flyover Minority Deal

Congressman Bobby Rush wouldn’t give the press a look at the “memorandum of understanding” he says he negotiated with IHC Construction/Illinois Constructors Joint Venture, the successful bidder on METRA’s $93 million Englewood Flyover rail overpass construction contract to boost minority employment on the project, probably because the deal is essentially meaningless for increasing employment in the Englewood neighborhood. The project is intended to untangle one of the most congested rail bottlenecks in the United States, and reduce freight train interference with commuter rail service on Chicago’s south side.

Ballyhooed last week as a boosting employment for Englewood residents, the deal really does little or nothing for jobs in the neighborhood. According to METRA officials, the deal sets up a community liaison to facilitate contacts between contractors on the project and minority businesses and workers, and provides mentoring for African American owned companies. What it doesn’t do is require the general contractor to hire companies not included in its bid to METRA. If it did, that would violate state bid shopping laws. While IHC President David Rock says “It’s my goal to get some local folks jobs,” he quickly adds “They still have to be able to do the work.” Given the high rate of gang related shootings in Englewood, what happens when skilled construction tradespeople in Englewood get work, is that they move out of the neighborhood.

The contractors and subcontractors on this project will be required to submit certified payrolls including the ZIP Codes of each worker on the site. It would be an interesting academic exercise for some local Ph.D. social science student to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain them, and do an analysis of the worker migration out of Englewood during the course of the construction work. However, it’s doubtful anyone will go to such lengths to test whether Congressman Rush has actually done anything at all to improve overall employment of Englewood residents by this headline grabbing, legally unenforceable “memorandum of understanding.”

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