Local contractors protest lack of minority inclusion in county projects

Brock A. Stein | 2/28/2018, 1:39 p.m.
A group called the Black Contractors of Will County protested outside of the Will County Courthouse on Tuesday to draw ...
An artist's rendition of the new Will County Court building.

A group called the Black Contractors of Will County protested outside of the Will County Courthouse on Tuesday to draw attention to the lack of minority contractors working on the new courthouse site.

Willie Sellers, owner of Sellers and Sellers Enterprise Inc. who belongs to Teamsters Local #786 in Chicago, and a Joliet resident, said that his group has organized similar protests in the past for other large Will County-based construction projects most recently the Water’s Edge construction on McDonough Street in Joliet. He said his group has tried to draw attention to the ongoing problem going back as far as the Center Point construction.

“Every time a large project goes on they tell us to try to get up front,” said Sellers, adding, “and then they kind of give us the run around.”

Sellers said that the group is asking for more minority representation in the crews who work on the projects but have continued to see a lack of diverse representation.

“It’s the same old game,” said Sellers. He said that the $215 million County Courthouse project and others like it are beholden to “a good old boys network” that unfavorably excludes minorities from winning bids or finding work once the projects begin.

Another member of the group, James Foster, owner of New Frontier Electric, Inc., member of Local #176 Union, said that those projects overlook an opportunity to support local workers like Sellers who lives only “5 minutes from the job site.” He and other members of the group have been diligent in attending city council and county board meetings to stay informed about when jobs will come up for bid but don’t seem to be making any headway in winning more work from some of the large-scale jobs.

“We’ve been talking about this for over 10 years,” said Foster.

Sellers said that part of the problem may be the way that Project Labor Agreements (PLA) are put together. The agreements act as a blue print for projects like the county courthouse he said and once the bids are assigned, there is little in them that reinforces rules for minority worker requirements.

“The PLA’s are not designed for people of color to participate,” said Sellers.

In December, the county officially broke ground on the site of the former First Midwest Bank building, where the new 10-story courthouse will be constructed.

The new courthouse will replace the current 4-story building and its 23 courtrooms on Jefferson Street with a new 365,000 square foot building, 38 new courtrooms as well as a 4-story administrative building housing the circuit clerk and sheriff’s offices.

The City of Joliet, which has partnered with the county for the courthouse, and will contribute $10 million to the project over 20 years, addressed concerns about a lack of local and minority hiring at the Water’s Edge housing project last year.

In that case, some jobs associated with the project were re-bid to give minority contractors in Joliet a chance to bid.