GARY | Church groups on Tuesday night broadened the scope of their push to reserve some jobs on Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority projects for people from the region's most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
More than 60 people at The Privatization Panel at Trinity United Church of Christ heard panelists describe the shortcomings of deals such as the recent Gary/Chicago International Airport privatization.
Indiana University Northwest Professor Emerita Ruth Needleman said while the airport deal reserves 20 percent of contracts for disadvantaged and minority-owned firms, it does not mean those firms have to put disadvantaged workers on the job.
"It means all the money will fly out of here, just like it did with the baseball stadium," Needleman said in reference to building the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary.
The Rev. Dwight Gardner, president of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations, took aim at the $166 million Gary airport expansion as the prime example of an RDA-funded project that employs few from the local community.
"The work there is being done, but it's not being done by us," Gardner said.
The Northwest Indiana Federation has been negotiating with the RDA for three years to implement a community benefits agreement that would reserve 30 percent of jobs on RDA projects for people from the region's 14 poorest ZIP codes.
The RDA has not signed the agreement while pointing out it does have mandates for hiring women-owned, minority-owned and other disadvantaged businesses in all its project contracts.
Also serving on Tuesday night's panel was Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C., organization that bills itself as "a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting."
"These contracts, leases and public-private partnerships actually limit and even eliminate in some cases our democratic rights in the things we care about, including jobs and the economy," he said.