City emphasizes local hiring for local work

Paul Thissen

Some Evanston aldermen want more city residents hired on local construction jobs — but finding a legal way to do that could be challenging.

The city has set a goal of 15 percent Evanston employment in construction projects, but Alds. Gene Feldman (9th), Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) and Ann Rainey (8th) said earlier this week that Evanston residents still were not getting jobs. They said they want the city to put more pressure on contractors to meet that goal.

“If it is a persuasive campaign that we run and we communicate that to the contractors, I think that campaign will bear fruit,” Jean-Baptiste said.

Other nearby suburbs, including Highland Park, Morton Grove and Niles, have no laws or guidelines to encourage contractors to hire residents for local construction.

Evanston’s policy is non-binding because making a mandatory requirement is illegal, Jean-Baptiste said. Such a policy would violate anti-discrimination laws because it is no different than establishing a racial hiring quota.

Still, aldermen said they want to find some way to get more Evanston residents jobs.

“Its up to staff to figure out how we can get there,” Feldman said. “I’m not suggesting there aren’t legal impediments to certain kinds of things … (that) doesn’t mean they can’t be achieved in other ways.”

Evanston explored one possibility in 1991 with a 15-year, multi-phase project to renovate the city’s sewers. As part of the project, the city funds a training program for unemployed Evanston residents. At the program’s end, the contractor hires the trainees for the sewer work.

If the city is willing to pay training costs for unemployed residents, it’s more likely to get them jobs on local projects, Jean-Baptiste said.

Jean-Baptiste said he is working with city staff to increase efforts to train unemployed residents and find them jobs. Although he praised the sewer project’s training program, he said it often doesn’t lead to long-term employment.

“A lot of times one (phase) ends after six months,” he said. “That Evanston resident may have gotten short-term employment, and then they’re not hired on the next (phase). Ultimately, we have not done anything to impact (unemployment).”

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected].