Five file complaints of discrimination against firm
By Judy Masterson firstname.lastname@example.org December 2, 2013 5:56PM
Men who have filed discrimination complaints against Cyrstal Lake-based Curran Contracting include from left, Greg Renix of Waukegan, David Stackhouse of North Chicago, Chris "Brotha" Blanks and Leroy Walker, both of Waukegan, and Clyde McLemore of Zion. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media
For information on BAMM (Black Abolition Movement for the Mind), visit www.bam4themind.com or call Chris “Brotha” Blanks at (773) 510-1713.
Updated: February 1, 2014 3:36AM
Five local men have filed complaints with both the U.S. Department of Labor and the Illinois Department of Human Rights alleging race and age discrimination against Curran Contractors, one of Lake County’s largest road construction firms.
Lodged in November, the complaints outline an alleged pattern of discrimination from 2008 to present in which the company, they claim, withholds work from older, experienced African American road construction workers while giving jobs to younger, less-experienced whites and Latinos.
Chris “Brotha” Blanks of Waukegan, who has worked on and off for the company since the 1990s, said the Crystal Lake-based Curran shows a preference for non-blacks and awards them higher-skilled jobs.
He and the other complainants said they have been told by Curran that there was no work, that they weren’t needed, only to drive by construction sites to see new hires on the job. Other allegations include the refusal to give blacks work on Saturdays, which pays time-and-a-half, refusing to train them and other unequal treatment.
“Blacks have collectively and over all received fewer hours of work, resulting in less pay than non-blacks,” Blanks wrote in detailed notes on working conditions at the company. “Black males have been relegated and limited to flagging more than non-whites resulting in limited or lack of equal access, opportunities and the full benefit of effectively learning the skills and crafts of our trades.”
Curran Contracting President Rick Noe did not return a call seeking comment. But the company’s website states that it is “an equal opportunity employer” and that it hires employees through several union halls. But workers don’t have to go through the union hall, according to Blanks, who said both union and non-union job seekers are free to apply at any worksite or at the company’s office.
All five of the complainants are over 50. Two are veterans. Two claim to have faced discrimination after being injured while working for the company.
“They hire black people on certain projects to be in compliance with federal and state contracts, but they don’t retain them,” said David Stackhouse of North Chicago, who counted himself among just two black operating engineers for the company before he was injured on the job in 2012. The company chose not to reinstate him, he said, despite having allowed other injured workers to return.
Stackhouse is also alleging discrimination based on his disability.
According to the County of Lake Purchasing Department, Curran was awarded nearly $9 million in road construction contracts this year − four in conjunction with different townships. The company also does big business with the state, where its projects for 2013 amounted to more than $22 million.
“There’s been an enormous amount of money spent on road construction over the last two seasons in Lake County,” Blanks said. “If you just drive around, you can see it. Blacks aren’t being hired for these jobs. The county should hold these contractors accountable.”
“We take allegations like these very seriously,” said Lake County Board President Aaron Lawlor, who added he wanted to learn more about the complaints. “We have a responsibility to our residents to ensure the projects we do are done in the most fiscally responsible manner and that they follow state and federal law.”
Blanks, who said Curran refused to give him work last spring despite his persistent efforts and unblemished job record, cites a recent county board vote against $60,000 for a youth jobs program.
“We’re fighting for the future of our youth in Lake County, particularly the disproportionate numbers of young black youth who are being shut out of the work force,” Blanks said.
Founder of the Black Abolition Movement for the Mind or BAMM, Blanks, along with supporters picketed the Lake County Courthouse in September over the lack of minority and local participation in the construction of a $1.3 million county parking lot in downtown Waukegan.