Austin residents protest outside a Chicago company

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This protestor gathers in the West Loop to demand more construction jobs (Photo/Kelsey Duckett)

Austin residents, activists and leaders protested this morning outside a construction firm they say isn’t employing enough West Siders.

Nearly 50 people met at 900 W. Adams St., then walked about a block west to Walsh Construction. There they gathered in the lobby holding signs and asked for a meeting where they want to present a list of demands and build a partnership to help Austin residents get construction jobs on the West Side and beyond.

Two Walsh Construction’s executives – Douglas Rai Cunningham, director of corporate diversity for Walsh Construction, and Peter Glimco, general counsel – agreed to meet with the group on June 4.

This protestor gathers in the West Loop to demand more construction jobs (Photo/Kelsey Duckett)Virgil Crawford of the Westside Health Authority said the company’s response left him feeling hopeful.

“Our cause is righteous, our cause is just; we have a right to be here, we have a right to speak out,” Crawford said. “It is no secret that when we go throughout our community and you see construction work being done, the workers on those sites do not reflect our community. That ain’t right.”

But Cunningham said his company isn’t currently doing construction work on the West Side, adding that Walsh Construction is not involved in the multi-million dollar Eisenhower Expressway resurfacing project.

The Ike project, which is scheduled to be completed later this year, is a source of frustration for the Austin group and was discussed last week at a meeting covered by our partners at the Austin Weekly News.

“We don’t have a problem with meeting and hearing their concerns, we don’t have a problem with talking,” Cunningham said. “But the reality is this economy is really bad. We are looking at close to 40 percent unemployment in the trade. There is no work. We are laying off people, not hiring them.”

Crawford said he doesn’t buy that and said that he sees construction taking place throughout the city of Chicago every day.

“The point of there being no jobs, I mean we all have eyes, we can see. So I don’t quite accept the notion that there are no jobs,” he said.

Still, Crawford, along with Rev. Michael Stinson of General Assembly Church, say they feel confident next week’s meeting will give them the opportunity to create a positive dialogue and begin building a partnership with Walsh Construction.

Glimco said a future partnership is not something Walsh Construction is opposed to but reiterated there are no jobs.

“We have to be honest, and we don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture. We are not hiring because there is no work,” he said. “The notion that there is something beyond that is absurd – there is no work and that’s it.”

Crawford vowed the group will keep working on the issue and plans to talk to local alderman and other elected officials.

“We are down here to express our concerns to Walsh Construction because they are at the top of the food chain in Chicago, but we are not stopping at Walsh,” he said.

“We have to take this fight to the State House and to the White House. We have to take the fight to those who are making the decisions, these are the people we elected into office who aren’t representing us and standing up for us, and that ain’t right.”

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