Thursday, April 27, 2006


Protesters have stopped traffic in Seattle demanding that more African-American workers be hired for a major light rail project in the city.

Millions and millions of dollars are being put into projects all over the city of Seattle, but a small amount — something like one percent — has gone to to disadvantaged businesses. And black workers are not being hired. The Sound Transit Project is a major example of the problem.

The story below is from the Seattle Times.

Protesters stop traffic, demand more black workers on Sound Transit light-rail project

Demonstrators entered a Sound Transit job site and briefly blocked traffic on Rainier Avenue South in Seattle late this morning to protest what they called a lack of African-American workers on a light-rail project that runs through their community.

There were a few confrontations when irritated motorists tried to inch through groups of protesters, but there was no violence. About 70 people held hands in a circle at Rainier and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and concluded the protest about noon. They planned to gather again when the politicians on Sound Transit's governing board held their regular meeting today.

The dispute has been simmering for three years, as black ministers and activists have urged the agency not to forget small, black-owned businesses when it awarded nine-figure contracts in 2003-04.

"Sound Transit presented us with a cutting-edge contract that promised to incorporate African Americans into the work force," said James Kelly, the director of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. "Well, the results are in, and of the 91,000 labor hours recorded in the last four months, only 1,900 hours were accumulated by African Americans."

Sound Transit's light-rail director, Ahmad Fazel, said the agency is barred by federal regulations from targeting contracts based on race. Sound Transit does set and meet goals for broader participation by minority, female and disabled business owners.

"I hope that you know Sound Transit is serious about this issue and will continue to work with you," Fazel told Charles Rolland, one of the demonstrators.

Rolland cautioned him, "Contents under pressure -- if you don't relieve it, it's going to escalate."

The transit agency says that based on data it collects from major contractors, 11 percent of work hours have been performed by African Americans since 2004, but protest leaders are skeptical of the numbers. The Community Coalition for Contracts and Jobs, leading the protests, said that fewer than 2 percent of contracts go to African-American businesses.

The regional transit agency is building a $2.7 billion, 16-mile line from Westlake Center in downtown Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Earlier today, the demonstrators chanted, "No black contracts, no black jobs, no light rail!" outside the gate of another job site, along Airport Way South, where a tunnel through Beacon Hill is being drilled.

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