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Thursday, June 9, 2011 06:40 am

Officials slow to sign rail minority hiring agreement

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Pastor T. Ray McJunkins leads prayer after calling on local and state officials to sign Springfield agreement.
PHOTO BY HOLLY DILLEMUTH

Representatives of Faith Coalition for the Common Good are scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in Chicago, Thursday, June 9, to discuss a Springfield agreement that would fill nearly one-third of rail jobs with minorities, women and low-income workers.

“It would be really pleasing to go to Secretary LaHood and share with him that our community officials agree with us,” says T. Ray McJunkins, pastor of Union Baptist Church in Springfield and president of FCCG.

At a June 2 event, McJunkins and the FCCG called on Congressman Aaron Schock, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig to support the Springfield Rail Community Benefits Agreement. The seven-tiered agreement would include 1 percent of the total rail funding for job training.

Between 25 and 35 people from the FCCG Rail Issue Task Force, local clergy and neighborhood associations came out to the Springfield Amtrak Station to support jobs for Springfield workers.

 “This rail project will have a lasting impact on the community of Springfield,” says McJunkins. “In fact, it is the most important thing that will happen to Springfield in any of our lifetimes.”

Union Pacific Rail will lay the tracks and hire workers for the project that could consolidate three rail lines at the 10th Street tracks.

“We will not tolerate Union Pacific, nor IDOT, bringing in workers from out of state to do what our local businesses should be doing. We want jobs, opportunities to be available to people of color and women as well,” says McJunkins.

The FCCG agreement is backed by the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Springfield Mayor Michael Houston and Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter.

McJunkins and FCCG also called for Union Pacific Rail to include a hiring requirement of 30 percent minorities in their contract.

“No one is really saying where the jobs are,” says Shelly Heideman, executive director of FCCG.

She points to jobs like hauling rock, laying asphalt, landscaping and new Amtrak workers as some of the positions that should be open for local low-income residents, minorities and women.

The agreement also would reimburse families displaced by the rail project so they could find affordable housing, ensure that the rail project will include “green” spaces, boost small business development for minorities and promote safety.

Heideman stresses that Springfield should use the union workers it already has instead of drawing in contractors from other states to lay asphalt and landscape.

“We have local union labor support and they’re saying, ‘Our guys are sitting on the bench when there’s all this work to be done that’s being done by out-of-state workers,” she says. “So there’s just something not right about that.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation would not answer questions about the benefits agreement but issued a statement June 3.

“Illinois Department of Transportation continues to stand committed to working with Faith Coalition for the Common Good and the community to discuss the impact of high-speed rail in Springfield,” says IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell. “We have had numerous meetings with Faith Coalition for the Common Good and will continue collaborative efforts to determine what is in the best interest of the Springfield community.”

Gordon A. Smith, a member of FCCG and Springfield resident, attended the local event. He would like to see a commitment in writing that there will be local jobs and lawmakers will follow the benefits agreement.

“If you expect business as usual, you’ll get results as usual,” says Smith.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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