News from the Network Media Coverage

Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the Austin African-American Business Networking Association and owner of Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, took photos of Sunday’s march for equality at a Southwest Side Meijer store construction site. The event was attended by residents, members from multiple advocacy and religious groups, and elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis and former U.S. Sen. Roland Burris.

The following op-ed is by Ana Garcia-Ashley:

We see a lot of handwringing about societal issues from handouts to handguns, with focus on all the pitfalls of offering a hand up. In the view of Chicago’s legendary Soft Sheen haircare company founder Ed Gardner and a groundswell of individuals and organizations across the country, the best answers to that conundrum have been staring us in the face.

Gardner recently happened by a construction site on the city’s Southwest Side. He looked for, but couldn’t find, a single black worker. Though that case involved a big-box retailer, the same scenario plays out around major government-funded mixed-use, transit and infrastructure projects going on in neighborhoods suffering the highest rates of all those social ills.

So, on a bright Sunday at the end of September, 87-year-old Gardner invited others to join him after church at the retailer’s construction site. Nearly 1,000 did – among them long- time friends equally distinguished in their fields, elected officials, activists, tradespeople who had been turned away, as well as residents just plain fed up with having their noses rubbed in opportunities so close yet off limits to them. Their protests resulted in the retailer’s commitment to ensure a more equitable distribution of jobs.

My chest swelled when I heard about Gardner’s stand. Gamaliel, the faith-based network I serve, had just launched a national campaign inspired by such everyday heroes who encounter a problem and return with solutions. Called Fire of Faith, it seeks to galvanize 20,000 supporters at 30 public meetings into helping move 1 million people into living- wage jobs over the next three years.

The last five years gave us confidence in our ambitious goal. During that time, our affiliates directed id="mce_marker"6.6 billion into infrastructure development, education and transit that created and saved more than 639,000 jobs.Community Organizing As Job Creator: An Investment That Works For All documents how we achieved those results in the public sector through winning funds, finding revenue sources and changing policy.

Chicago-based Gamaliel actually originated in its home state what has become known as the “Missouri Model,” in collaboration with one of our former organizers — then U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). He introduced language in the 2005 surface transportation bill SAFETEA-LU allowing one-half percent of federal transportation dollars to be set aside for pre-apprenticeship and job training for low-income workers, people of color and women on specific highway or bridge projects.

In early 2006, Illinois Gamaliel affiliates moved quickly to have the new legislation apply to the $524 million Interstate 64/US 40 project in Missouri. The process used on that side of the river has been praised for producing exceptional workforce diversity, while coming in under budgeted time and cost. It has been successfully tailored to issues in neighboring states, the Northeast, as far away as California and Hawaii.

Meanwhile, United Congregations of Metro East (East St. Louis), Faith Coalition for the Common Good (Springfield), Quad Cities Interfaith (Moline) and Gamaliel of Metro Chicago have negotiated with the Illinois Dept. of Transportation for over a year to fulfill a project labor agreement passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in June 2011. It requires specific goals, which must incorporate strong language about diversity, given past exclusionary practices on state-funded construction.

First in ideas, last in results? We can no longer afford that. Frankly, there are no more excuses. We have the will, the model and the money to bring economic dignity to families in Illinois and beyond. We have proven fairness does not cost too much – certainly far less than the loss of life, homes, educational opportunities and more that comes from inability to earn a decent living. We need grassroots leaders like Ed Gardner and those in the Gamaliel network to continue showing the difference between handwringing and a hand up.

Ana Garcia-Ashley is executive director of Gamaliel, which has assisted grassroots leaders become independent forces for tackling local issues since 1968 and currently encompasses 60 racially diverse, multi-faith community organizations in 17 states. Visit for further information.

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

September 18, 2012

The City of Portland is about to try out a new kind of project labor agreement on public construction contracts. The 23-page “Model Community Benefits Agreement” approved Sept. 5 mandates that on future City construction projects, unions will represent workers, and women and minority workers and contractors will have expanded opportunities. The community benefits agreement, approved in a 5-0 vote, was developed in nearly two years of meetings among unions, minority contractors, pre-apprenticeship training programs, and city officials, and will apply to projects of over $15 million.

The agreement sets goals:

  • At least 18 percent of the work will be performed by minorities, and 9 percent by women, and the targets apply both to journeymen and apprentices;
  • At least 20 percent of the work on contracts of over $200,000 (and subcontracts of over $100,000) will be performed by apprentices;
  • At least 20 percent of the hard construction costs will go to women-owned, minority-owned and “disadvantaged” businesses, and joint ventures with minority and women-owned businesses will get a preference of up to 5 percent in bidding on contracts; and
  • At least 30 percent of the workforce will be hired from areas identified by the U.S. Small Business Administration as “historically underutilized business” zones, census tracts that include downtown Portland, inner Southeast and Northeast Portland, and the Lents, and Cully neighborhoods in outer Southeast and Northeast, as well as areas of Gresham, Hillsboro and western Clark County.

In the new community benefits agreement, contractors agree to abide by the terms of union contracts, and to use union hiring halls. Except in this case, nonunion contractors that are state-certified as “disadvantaged business enterprises” are allowed to use some of their existing “core employees” — those who’ve worked the equivalent of seven months full-time work in the previous 18 months — with no requirement that the workers become union members or that the employer provide union benefits. However, the contractors have to document that their health and fringe benefits are comparable to the union benefits. And new hires would have to come through union hiring halls.

Meanwhile, the community benefits agreement spells out that unions will represent all workers on the project — whether they’re members or not. Accordingly, even nonunion contractors will deduct union dues — whether or not workers are union members — to cover union costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance processing.

The agreement also commits unions and contractors to use a veterans employment program known as Helmets to Hardhats. And it mandates that managers, supervisors, and owners be given “cultural competency” training.

Significantly, it dedicates 1.5 percent of City construction budgets to help women and minority workers and contractors get ready for the job:

  • 0.25 percent will pay to monitor and enforce the agreement, overseen by a committee composed of representatives from labor, management, and community groups;
  • 0.75 percent will go to Worksystems Inc. to award grants to pre-apprenticeship training programs that focus on training women and minorities; and
  • 0.50 percent will pay for “technical assistance and business support” for women- and minority-owned contractors, such as that provided by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolitan Contractor Improvement Partnership.

Calling the community benefits agreement “1.5 percent for equity,” former Portland city commissioner Jim Francesconi likened it to Oregon’s “1 percent for art” mandate, in which a portion of public building costs is dedicated to public art.

Francesconi, now an attorney, was hired by Operating Engineers Local 701 and Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters to develop the community benefits agreement. Groups including the Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council, pre-apprenticeship training programs like Oregon Tradeswomen Inc., Constructing Hope, Portland Youthbuilders, and Construction Apprenticeship & Workforce Solutions (CAWS), also had a hand in crafting the agreement.

The City Council resolution which enacted the model agreement declares that the City has “a compelling governmental interest in ensuring that it is not a participant, either passive or active, in perpetuating the effects of past or present discrimination.”

Maurice Rahming, immediate past president of the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, explains that in the past, construction contractors didn’t hire women and minorities. Racial and gender disparity continued after overt discrimination ended, Rahming says, in part because sons tend to follow fathers into careers in construction. And access to these jobs matters a great deal, because journeymen can earn $39 an hour or more plus benefits — depending on the trade — on public construction jobs that are subject to state and federal prevailing wage laws.

The community benefits agreement is a breakthrough, Francesconi told the Labor Press, for several reasons: It’s the first time in Oregon that a government has required project labor agreements on its construction projects, and it represents a new unity between unions and minority communities.

Nonunion contractors have often defeated proposals for project labor agreements, Francesconi said, by forming alliances with minority contractors or community members and arguing that unions don’t work well with minorities.

“Minority contractors have been pitted against the unions as if they’re opposing sides of an argument. This agreement says, ‘You know what? We’re not on opposing sides.’” — Maurice Rahming

“Here the opposite has happened,” Francesconi said. “Minority contractors and community representatives want a relationship with the unions, and advocated for this project labor agreement. And the unions went a long way to provide training and support for minority and women workforce and minority businesses, and carved out this exception for disadvantaged minority- and women- owned businesses where they didn’t have to join the union.”

Rahming, who is both a black business owner and a signatory contractor with IBEW Local 48, agrees: “Minority contractors have been pitted against the unions as if they’re opposing sides of an argument. This agreement says, ‘You know what? We’re not on opposing sides.’”

To test run the community benefits agreement, City Commissioner Randy Leonard offered up two Water Bureau projects that are already under way: the Kelly Butte reservoir replacement, and the Interstate Maintenance Facility renovation. The Kelly Butte project — to replace the 10-million-gallon above-ground steel tank with a 25-million-gallon reinforced concrete underground reservoir — had already been awarded to Hoffman Construction, but the City is modifying that contract. In the Interstate Maintenance Facility Renovation, the City will construct a 28,000-square-foot LEED Gold building to replace a 1925 building that rates poorly for seismic and fire safety and disabled access. An adjacent 38,000 square foot building will be built in a second phase.

The day the community benefits agreement was approved, City Council chambers were packed to the edge of the second-floor gallery with 175 people who turned out in support, most wearing red T-shirts made by CAWS bearing the slogan, “community benefits for all.”

Portland Mayor Sam Adams told the crowd the community benefits agreement is about “taking another step to become a city of the most equal opportunity for all Portlanders.”

Doug Tweedy, executive secretary-treasurer of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, commended the City Council for being the first agency to “step up to the plate and do the right thing.”

“Opportunity is what this is all about,” he said. “The disparity within our workforce and our contracting community is documented and does exist.”

The Detroit Bus Company’s converted school bus was a little like the DeLoreon from Back To The Future yesterday morning.

Literally speaking, the bus transported a group of metro Detroit transit advocates—the group included suburban businessman, a UAW retiree, and representatives from M.O.S.E.S. and the Michigan Suburbs Alliance—to Lansing for a Regional Transit Authority hearing before the House Transportation Committee.

But, really, this bus was taking its passengers 30 years into the past to correct a grievous error, back to a time when metro Detroit should have (like other major municipalities) created a regional governing authority for public transportation.

Regional transit authorities have been best practice in metropolises across the country for decades.

Typically, things in metro Detroit are a little different. Twenty-three times lawmakers have tried to regionalize metro Detroit’s transit system and 23 times the efforts failed. SMART and DDOT buses continue to chase each other up and down major thoroughfares as the two agencies maintain redundant bureaucracies.

“We are the only large metro that doesn’t have a mass transit system,” testified Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak), an RTA legislation sponsor.

This time, however, things may be—or should be—different. The coalition backing the current RTA proposal reaches far beyond the grassroots activists who traveled to Lansing via the Detroit Bus Company.

Business leaders like Rock Ventures CEO Matt Cullen also spoke in support of the RTA legislation.

“The business community really believes strongly that regional cooperation and coordination of the transit system is critical to building an economic revival and strong region,” Cullen said.

Perhaps more impressive than the corporate support was the bipartisan array of local officials including Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Washtenaw County Commission Chairman Conan Smith, Detroit Chief Operating Officer Chris Brown, and Oakland County Deputy Executive Bob Daddow who spoke in favor of the RTA.

Daddow, who raised some concerns about the current legislation’s details, said his boss, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, backs the concept.

“We support the bill,” he told the House committee. “We are asking for some changes…for example right now the authority is developed through a local act. That allows itself to be subject to challenge. Shifting it to a constitutional authority…would provide a level of permanency to the authority.”

Chris Brown nodded his head in agreement with Oakland County’s suggestion, as Daddow explained their constitutional authority modification.

The broad support for the plan, which would pave the way for a high-speed regional bus rapid transit system, the M1 street car, improved bus service, and a greater share of federal transit dollars coming to Michigan, as well as the absence of any counter-argument against the proposal is as much the RTA plan’s weakness as well as the strength.

It’s not often anything has unanimous buy-in from metro Detroit’s top political leaders, the business community’s endorsement, and the support of a well-organized grassroots. Yet, RTA has been stalled in Lansing for most of 2012. Even at the conclusion of Thursday’s impressive display of support, the Transportation Committee could only commit to holding addition hearings on the proposal’s “technical” details.

What more will it take to make Lansing see this as a major and overdue priority?

Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, acknowledged after the hearing that the RTA plan’s fate may come down to the whim of two men—Speaker Jason Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.

“The frustrating thing is it maybe doesn’t matter that we have this incredible support at every level if the two men who can make it happen, Bolger and Richardville, refuse [to bring the RTA bills up for a floor vote] then game over.”

Still, despite that potential roadblock, activists on the Detroit Bus Company ride back from Lansing said they believed the hearing was a positive step toward getting RTA approved. And they used the trek home to strategize winning support from skeptical legislators.

“We can make sure the case has been made crystal clear about the benefits, answers the questions and concerns that are raised, we can rally support,” said Owens. “You can lead a horse to water.”

Given the consensus around this issue, one might assume it unthinkable that this 24th attempt at an RTA would be left wither on the vine, but here we are. Such is the nature of dysfunction in our state’s capitol at this moment in history.

It’s easy to turn the 23 failed RTA efforts into a punchline, but our collective incompetence comes at a great price.

The story of transit in Detroit is a story of lost infrastructure and opportunities.

Bill Rustem, a policy advisor to Governor Rick Snyder, noted in his testimony Thursday that one failed RTA effort championed by the Ford Administration would have funded construction of a rapid transit system. We muffed that effort and ended up with the People Mover as a consolation prize.

“At the time, put on the table by the Ford Administration, was $600 million in federal funds to help build a regional transportation system in southeast Michigan,” Rustem said. “There was one condition at the time, the Detroit Department of Transportation and the Southeast Michigan Transportation Authority were required to merge but disagreements between the city and its suburbs over the question of control resulted in failure. Those federal funds were spent elsewhere.”

A century ago, the interurban and streetcar systems moved people throughout southeast Michigan. Former Macomb County Commission Chairman John Hertel recalled riding on Detroit’s last streetcar run in 1956 during his pro-RTA testimony. He also talked about his grandmother’s memories riding the interurban.

“She said when I first came here from the thumb 'I was 18,' she said, 'I could get back on weekends to Sanilac County by taking something called the interurban',” he said. “It was literally a light rail service that ran from Detroit to Ann Arbor, from Detroit to Port Huron, Detroit to Flint, and it even ran from Detroit to Toledo. That was torn out after World War II. We had had one of the best transit systems in North America.”

The RTA plan represents the best opportunity since Jerry Ford to begin rebuilding that infrastructure. The stars are aligned for a rare moment in metro Detroit, all that’s left is for a state legislature to, you know, do its job. Or rather, it needs to finally do the job legislatures past.


If education is a path to success, getting students to show up is a step in the right direction. That’s why Springfield Public Schools and the Faith Coalition for the Common Good are rolling out separate but related programs aimed at improving school attendance.

Sharon Kherat, transformation officer for Lanphier High School in Springfield, says the school just kicked off its “Climbing the Ladder to Success” program at the start of the school year. The program involves educating parents on what constitutes an unexcused absence, meeting with students and calling the parents of truant students. Most importantly, Kherat says, it emphasizes encouraging voluntary attendance.

“It is about building relationships with students and their families and assisting students in developing good habits,” Kherat says. We are serious about preparing them for college and their career. We know that attendance is critical to their educational outcome and future success, so the expectation is that LHS’ students will be at school every day.”

Lanphier’s program is one of several similar programs district-wide aimed at attendance.

Ten years ago, the high school’s attendance level was around 88 percent before dropping to around 83 percent in 2006. Since then, it has slowly climbed back to about 89 percent this year. The goal is 95 percent attendance by the end of the school year.

Several parents helped create the plan to address chronic truancy, Kherat says. When a student misses three days, a teacher calls the student’s parent or parents. Teachers are given a “script” to keep the conversation less accusatory and more “caring and supportive,” Kherat says.

“It’s a holistic approach that is more preventative than reactive,” she says. “We’re always looking for incentives that recognize the kids who are doing the right thing, who have been coming every day or have made significant improvements.”

While the school district works on building relationships with students, the Faith Coalition for the Common Good is working on relationships with the community, which the coalition hopes will provide accountability and encouragement to students.

Maurine Magliocco is helping coordinate the coalition’s “In School & On Time Initiative.” Meant to complement the school district’s efforts, the initiative calls for billboards, T-shirts and other ways to spread the message that success starts with attendance.

Magliocco says business owners and members of the community will be encouraged to question youth who appear to be skipping school.

“We want to let students and their families know that the community is behind them, that their school and their community cares,” Magliocco says. “Maybe some business might be more likely to say, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in school?’ The whole idea is that kids start getting the message that the whole community wants them in school.”

September 23, 2012  • 

People from various faiths and communities on Sunday evening raised their voices in song and prayer for local jobs and equity in conjunction with the proposed Chicago-to-Iowa City rail project with stops in the Quad-Cities.

About 70 people attended “A Quad-Cities Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Jobs and Job Equity” held at 6 p.m. at First Christian Church, 1826 16th St., Moline.

Through the Quad-Cities Interfaith initiative, lay and faith leaders alike have joined to ensure that the rail project provides local jobs and equitable access to jobs.

“We want the best for our community,” said the Rev. David Geenen of the 15th Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rock Island. “Not just the lowest common denominator, but the common good.

“As clergy, we’re grown closer together, even though we come from different traditions,” he said. “Together, we can be more powerful with a voice than alone.”

Many members of the clergy-led prayer and scripture readings. Talia Alvi of the Muslim Community of the Quad-Cities, Bettendorf, prayed for “the balance of justice that all creation is based on. We give thanks for the convenience and commerce that (the rail project) will bring.”

The Rev. Rogers Kirk of the Third Missionary Baptist Church, Davenport, grew up in the segregated South.

“There were many in my town who felt that this practice was all right and there was nothing wrong with it,” he said. “Together, we were able to bring about change ... All this came about because of a grassroots campaign to eradicate injustice.”

The Rev. Beth Rupe of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Moline, led a responsive prayer. “Help us to acknowledge our role in oppression in people’s lives when we participate in business practices that continue to exclude the poor and overlooked and that fails to train the ones who have traditionally been pushed to the margins of employment opportunities,” she said.

“We pray that all may have access to work that will provide the income necessary to meet their needs.”

Mark Rupe, song leader of the first Christian Church, led the closing song, “What Does the Lord Require of You?”

The Rev. Norwert Hills of Greater Antioch Baptist Church, Rock Island, recognized community leaders in the audience, and the Rev. Jay Wolin of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad-Cities, Davenport, led the closing prayer.

Quad-Cities Interfaith is a nonprofit organization of 20 congregations and community groups that have come together to build local leadership and address community issues in the Quad-City region of Illinois and Iowa.

Quad-City Interfaith is a member of Gamaliel of Illinois, which works to ensure jobs for low-income people and minorities, equitable distribution of resources and civil rights for those who live and work in Illinois.

This story originally appeared in the Quad-City Times on September 23, 2012 and is available here: