African American Contractors Association protest, claim racial discrimination in Hyde Park development

Members of the African American Contractors Association protested in front of the construction site for the new Boutique Hotel on the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue, Monday, June 5. The demonstrators demanded the hiring of African-American workers in neighborhoods with large numbers of African Americans. – Owen M. Lawson III

By JOSEPH PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

The African American Contractors Association in collaboration with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition protested in front of the construction site for the new Boutique Hotel on the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue, Monday, June 5. The groups claim that the developer William A. Randolph Inc. (WARI) defaulted on an agreement to offer them a part of the contractual work on the hotel.

The African American Contractors Association (AACA) is a professional association dedicated to business development, professional ethics and standards, job procurement, equitable financing and bonding for minority vendors.

“We have union guys who are paying dues but aren’t getting any
contracts or work,” said Omar Shareef, founder and consultant of the
AACA. “When it comes to hiring and firing on job sites, the whites are the first ones in and the blacks are the first ones out.”

Shareef felt slighted by WARI after it defaulted on its promise to contact him directly by email with the possibility of his organization earning a contract for the hotel. But after waiting for an email for over a week, he said that a representative of WARI told him they tried to contact him through a third party and rewarded the contract to another company.

Shareef claimed he never received an email message from WARI.

“I told them a week ago, if I don’t hear anything from them by Friday
in regard to equity for contracts on the [hotel] job, we would be out
here protesting,” Shareef said.

Shareef said he wanted to negotiate a contract that included painting, masonry, and female janitorial jobs for his workers. But according to Eric P. Handley, vice president of William A. Randolph Inc., there was never a verbal agreement in place between the two.

“There has never been a verbal agreement with African American Contractors Association or its members to provide preferential contracting terms,” Handley said. “But WARI will continue to work with their members along with other qualified MBE/WBE subcontractors to ensure that the project benefits the community at every stage.”

According to Handley, WARI has a long history of working with local communities and local subcontractors to provide opportunities for minorities to participate in their projects.

He explained that the Hyde Park Hotel project was no exception and that he and his company have worked with Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) for over two years while attending public meetings on the project.

“The contractors that have been awarded the contract are African Americans from the 5th ward,” Hairston said. “They [the AACA] can’t come in on a side deal when there has been a very open process and procedure, which they could have participated in.”

In addition to the claimed verbal agreement between the two companies, Hairston also stated that they invited the AACA to a subcontracting conference back in April, where over 70 companies were in attendance. Although most contractors in the city attended the conference, Shareef argued his company was never invited.

“We were excluded,” Shareef said. “We never got the invite.”

Hairston said the event was publicized in The Chicago Defender.

According to a representative from The Chicago Defender, the ad ran from April 5 to April 11.

Construction has already begun on the Boutique Hotel, which according to the developer’s website, will feature 97 rooms and space for retail and a restaurants.

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