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Community, Labor Rally for Brach’s Redevelopment

Unions and West Side community groups plan a huge rally this Saturday, November 1 at 10:30 a.m. at the Brach’s Candy plant, 410 N. Cicero, calling on Brach’s to assist with redeveloping the site and opposing trade agreements that facilitate industrial flight.

Community and labor groups in the Brach’s Coalition previously sought to head off the plant closing, but Brach’s is shifting production from the 73-year-old West Side plant to facilities in Mexico and Argentina. Now the coalition wants to insure that the site — a 32 acre site served by two rail lines, with a 2 million square foot plant that is the sixth largest industrial facility in the city — remains dedicated to manufacturing.

“The site should be developed in a way that replaces those jobs with jobs of equal or higher quality,” said Dan Swinney of the Center for Labor and Community Research, which has spearheaded the coalition. “Developing the site for a K-Mart or a WalMart would actually be de-developing the community.”

With concerns about loss of manufacturing rising, the coalition’s effort is attracting support from business and elected officials. A letter to the owner of Brach’s, European candy magnate Klaus Jacobs, asking him to work with business, labor, and local government “to ensure the company’s site is redeveloped to provide the type of manufacturing jobs that keep Chicago neighborhoods strong and healthy” was recently signed by city planning commissioner Alicia Berg, Ald. Ed Smith, Chamber of Commerce president Jerry Roper, Andrew Mooney of the Local Initiative Support Corp., and Paul O’Connor of World Business Chicago. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis will speak at the rally Saturday.

The Brach’s Coalition wants Jacobs to return an estimated $10 million in tax breaks, city energy subsidies and infrastructure improvements, and union concessions granted in response to plant closing threats since Jacobs acquired Brach’s in 1987. The money would go to match city funds for displaced Brach’s workers, redevelop the site for its “highest use,” and assist community groups with social programs that will “pick up the pieces from the plant closing,” said Swinney.

Chicago Jobs With Justice, a citywide community-labor coalition, is cosponsoring Saturday’s rally “to highlight the effect of trade agreements on workers and communities in Chicago,” said Jennie Busch, emphasizing opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a hemispheric trade agreement which is the subject of a minsterial meeting in Miami later this month. Demonstrators will march from the Brach’s plant to the proposed site of a new WalMart to contrast the “good union jobs” being lost with low-wage, low-benefit retail jobs, and to demand that WalMart pay workers a living wage and respect their right to organize, Busch said.

This week it was learned that the Brach’s site is being purchased by Michael Goldstein of Gold Realty Group Inc., who has developed two other former manufacturing sites on the West Side for retail.

Homeless Sell Fair Trade Coffee

Coalition Cafe has been employing homeless men and women to promote and sell organic coffee at farmers markets in Chicago this summer. The marketers come from the leadership development program of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

A project of the CCH, Coalition Cafe aims to provide living wage jobs for homeless individuals selling “fair trade” organic coffee grown by peasant cooperatives. The coffee is roasted and packaged by Cafe Habitat of Northhampton, Mass., another economic development project which employs homeless people.

Coalition Cafe is now expanding the number of retailers carrying their coffee, with a long-term goal of opening a cafe that would provide retail training and experience along with living-wage jobs — while showcasing art, music, and poetry created by Chicago’s homeless.

Coalition Cafe will be at the Prudential Plaza farmers market on Sept. 25, Oct. 11, and Oct. 25. It’s also available online, along with a list of participating retailers.

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