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South Chicago workers win code of conduct

A leading South Chicago merchant will sign an employer’s code of conduct as part of a settlement in a wage dispute tomorrow.

Centro de Trabajadores Unidos (Immigrant Workers Project of South Chicago) is announcing the agreement by Antonio Macias, owner of three neighborhood food markets, at a press conference tomorrow (Tuesday, March 16, 1 p.m.) in front of the mural at 91st and S. Commercial.

Workers at Macias’s La Fruteria sued for violations of minimum wage and overtime laws last year, working with CTU and represented by the Working Hands Legal Clinic. They recovered their wages, and as part of the settlement Macias agreed to sign a code of conduct pledging to abide by labor laws and respect workers, said Ana Guajardo of CTU.

Noting that Macias “has a lot of influence in the community,” Guajardo said CTU hopes the agreement “sends a message to other business that they need to follow state and federal laws and respect workers.”

Fighting wage theft has been a major focus of CTU, she said.  Some cases are settled in response to community pressure, and sometimes claims are filed with the labor department or in small claims court, she said.

“Part of it is education,”Guajardo said. “Many workers don’t understand their rights.”  CTU conducts workshops and speaks in area churches.  It was in a presentation at a church that employees of La Fruteria first made contact with the group, she said.

Earlier this year 28 workers supported by CTU filed a lawsuit against a construction contractor seeking nearly $100,000 in unpaid wages,she  said.

Frank Lumpkin

Frank and Bea Lumpkin

Word has come that Frank Lumpkin, a true working-class hero, passed away on Monday at the age of 93.  Many years before Republic Windows closed leaving its employees in the lurch, Lumpkin led the Wisconsin Steel Save Our Jobs Commitee in an epic struggle after workers’ final paychecks bounced and promised benefits disappeared when the plant closed without warning in 1980.

After 17 years of battles in the courts, in the streets, and in legislatures going all the way to the U.S. Congress, the committee (and its lawyers including Tom Geoghegan) won a $19 million settlement.

Along with the company, Lumpkin and his fellow workers also had to take on a company union dominated by Alderman Edward Vrdolyak’s machine which cooperated in shafting the employees.

Frank is best remembered in Always Bring A Crowd, the biography by Beatrice Lumpkin, his wife of 60 years, published in 1999.  It’s the story of a brave and caring man — and also of the role of the left-wing black workers (including Frank’s mother and sister) in fighting racism in the decades before the civil rights movement.

Born in Georgia in 1916, one of ten children, Frank came north with his entire family (to Buffalo, N.Y.) in 1940.  He became a steelworker at Bethlehem’s Lackawanna plant two years later, served in the Merchant Marines during the war, married Bea and moved to Chicago in 1949, started at Wisconsin Steel in 1950 and worked there till it was shut down thirty years later.  He ran for state representative as an independent in 1988.  His slogan was, “Send a Steelworker to Springfield.”

He never seemed to be without his hat, an old-style fedora.  A passage in Bea’s book suggests one possible reason.

After a racist mob shut down Paul Robeson’s 1949 Peekskill concert, a second concert was announced for the next week, and Frank and four other steelworkers decided to make the trip from Buffalo.  They got there late, and the mob was waiting outside.

As Bea recounts it, Frank recalled:  “Having experience with that kind of action, I had my hat on, because that hat had cushioned many a blow for me.”

[Lumpkin’s age was given incorrectly in an earlier version.]

Back to South Works

In this month’s Progressive, Luis J. Rodriguez accompanies a former steelworker as he returns to Chicago and visits his former place of employment, the old site of South Works.

Near the entrance of the now-razed plant – it once covered 600 acres, had 70 coke ovens, employed nearly 20,000 workers (their softball league had 63 teams) – the two come across a Chicago police officer sitting in his car.  They ask what he’s doing and he says he’s “waiting for the high school kids to come out.”

Says the cop:  “Not much to do here but stop the fights after school.  It’s a daily occurrence.  It never used to be this way.  When the mill was running, there were hardly any gangs.  You had good hard-working families.”

Says Rodriguez, also a former Chicagoan, the largely Mexican community around U.S. Steel “thrived when the blast furnaces and massive forges went at it all day and all night.  In those days, there was little crime, everyone knew each other, most people owned their own homes, maybe two cars.  Now apartments sit empty, many families have moved out, and the Latin Kings and other street associations roam parks and gangways, surviving on drug sales, vice, and robberies…

“Tony and I turned onto Commercial Avenue, the once thriving strip of shops, businesses, and three-story flats.  Tony recalled the annual Christmas parade that brought thousands of people out into the street.”

The two bear witness to “the destruction that capitalism has wrought to many of our once-thriving, working-class communities,” he writes.  “While wealth continues to get accumulated into a smaller and smaller number of hands – helped by government bailouts – our country is rife with communities that have been written off.”

24-hour vigil blocks new meters

A protest by South Chicago residents against installation of new parking meters enters its sixth week on Monday, with an around-the-clock vigil now under way.

Led by Centro Communitario Juan Diego, the vigil so far has succeeded in blocking new meters on the 8800 block of South Commercial. The new meters were announced earlier this year, in the wake of the deal privatizating the city’s parking meters.

The 24-hour vigil began after holes were drilled in the sidewalk outside the center on July 19, while supporters were attempting unsucessfully to meet with 10th Ward Ald. John Pope.

Once or twice a day a private contractor’s truck, accompanied by an IDOT vehicle, approaches the block, said Guadelupe Ramirez. Residents on lookout form picket lines around the holes, and the trucks move on, she said.

CCJD isn’t opposed to all parking meters, just new ones on the half-block outside the group’s office, Ramirez said. (Previous meters on the block were taken out two decades ago, she said.)

“Many of our clients are poor,” she said. “They come in for the food pantry, for light and gas assistance [the center also offers help with housing, health, and literacy], and in many cases it can take a long time, sometimes several hours. We have elderly people carrying large boxes of food.”

The center has afterschool and summer programs where parents are expected to volunteer. “They would have to pay the meter for several hours every time they volunteer,” Ramirez said. “It isn’t practical.”

CCJD wasn’t invited to an April meeting of the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce where the new meters were approved, Ramirez said. After the decision was announced, residents collected 1600 signatures against the new meters and staged protests at the offices of 11th Ward Ald. John Pope (on a meter-free street) and the SSCC.

When the chamber said businesses prefered meters in order to increase turnover of parking spots, CCJD surveyed area business owers and found that over 90 percent opposed new meters, voicing worries that shoppers would take their business elsehwere, Ramirez said. After rumors of new parking meters in the nearby East Side neighborhood, the chamber of commerce there passed a resolution opposing more meters, she said.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Parking Meter Campaign has called a protest against parking meter rate hikes at City Hall on Wednesday, July 29 at 11:30 a.m., during the City Council meeting.

New mural in South Chicago

South Chicago teens will install a 90-foot-long mural addressing gangs, violence, and history, at 91st and Commercial tomorrow (Saturday, November 1, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Sixteen teens worked on the project with Brother Mark Elder, a DePaul University professor and muralist, at the South Chicago Art Center, 3217 E. 91st.

Black History Month in Pullman

The links between the historic neighborhood of Pullman and the black labor movement will be highlighted in a program this Friday on A. Philip Randolph and the Pullman Porters, the first of a series of Black History Month events sponsored by the Pullman Civic Organization.

The 2002 film “Ten Thousand Black Men Named George,” which deals with the organizing of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in the 1920s and ’30s, will be shown this Friday, February 1 at 7 p.m. at the Historic Pullman Visitor Center, 112th and Cottage Grove. Sam Greenlee, author of “The Spook Who Sat By The Door,” will lead a discussion on the film.

It’s the first of four events for the month, marking a growing collaboration between the Pullman group and the Bronzeville/Chicago Black History Society, said Tom Shepherd. The groups are discussing holding tours later this year showing where Pullman factory workers lived, in the company town of Pullman, and where Pullman porters lived, in Bronzeville.

On Sunday, February 10, the Underground Railroad will be discussed by author Glennette Tilley Turner, who has spent 35 years researching the Underground Railroad in Illinois (3 p.m. at the Hotel Florence, 11111 S. Forrestville Ave.) Local activists are seeking support for reconstructing the Jan Ton farmhouse, home of a Dutch farmer who sheltered runaway slaves, as an educational center just south of Pullman.

Tuskegee Airmen veterans will be on hand to discuss a movie about their historic role in World War II, Friday, February 15 at 7 p.m. at the Pullman Visitor Center. The month’s events conclude with a historical gospel concert, featuring music from pre-Civil War through modern times, at Greenstone Church, 11201 S. St. Lawrence.

City’s Last Landfill Closing

The city’s last landfill is slated to permanently close on December 31, and the Illinois EPA is holding a public hearing Wednesday on the permit governing closing and maintenance of Waste Management’s CID site at 134th near the Calumet River.

Local environmental activists want to see permit provisions concerning the landfill’s retention pond and water systems strengthened, reflecting fears that contaminated water could be leaking into groundwater or the river, said Alan Mammoser of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Waste Management stopped taking municipal waste in 2004 following City Council enactment of a landfill moratorium, later extended to a 20-year period. The company subsequently sought a deal to extend the landfill’s life for five years in exchange for promises to build a park on the site after it was closed. The proposal met opposition from local community, environmental and business groups, Ald. John Pope (10th ward) rejected it.

After decades as the city’s dumping ground, the Southeast Side is increasingly recognized for its rich environmental resources, including unique marshes, wetlands and prairies which host numerous rare species. The state and city are planning extensive wetlands restoration and brownfield development in the area, and a multimillion-dollar environmental center is planned for the Calumet open space reserve, near the Waste Management landfill.

The IEPA hearing takes place Wednesday, October 24, starting at 5:30 p.m., at the Hegewisch Public Library, 3048 E. 130th Street.

For more: Alan Mammoser, Southeast Environmental Task Force, 773-646-0436

Community Plan for South Lakefront

With new marinas being proposed and private efforts to develop a massive, former industrial lakefront site proceeding, park advocates are holding a symposium on a community consensus plan to complete the south lakefront parks on Wednesday, June 20, at the South Shore Cultural Center.

[Local groups are also holding a bus tour of the 580-acre former site of U.S. Steel’s South Works this Saturday; see below.]

Friends of the Parks and advisory councils for Jackson Park, Rainbow Beach Park and the South Shore Cultural Center are sponsoring a panel discussion on the community plan with architects, planners and public officials.

The plan, developed in two dozen community meetings over the past year, envisions new lakefill to add beaches, lagoons and open areas, with greenway corridors along the lakefront and connecting adjacent neighborhoods, and restoration of natural habitats.

It’s part of Friends of the Park’s “Last Four Miles” project, commemorating the centennial of the 1909 Burnham Plan by articulating community visions to complete its call for the entire 30-mile lakefront to be public parkland.

The current focus is on two miles on the South Side including privately-owned lakefront property from 71st to 75th Streets, the former site of U.S. Steel’s South Works plant south of 79th, and Illinois Port District land at Calumet Harbor.

Private developers recently submitted a zoning application for 17,000 units of housing on the South Works site. South Works Development LLC is transferring about 120 of the site’s 580 acres to the Chicago Park District as part of a planned unit development. And last week the Park District announced the South Works site was being considered for a new marina.

Parks supporters advocated adding parkland and reducing parking in the 83rd Street marina plan, said Erma Tranter of FOTP. “Otherwise the community that lives there gets nothing except increased traffic and environmental issues.”

She contrasts the “holistic” approach of the community plan with the “piecemeal” approach of developers and city planners.

The south lakefront symposium takes place at 6:30 p.m. at South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. Lake Shore Drive.

On Saturday, June 23, FOTP and local groups including the Southeast Environmental Task Force are sponsoring a bus tour of the South Works site, leaving from the Calumet Park Field House, 9801 S. Avenue G, at 9:30 a.m.

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