Protesters seek jobs on 11th Street Bridge project

About 50 demonstrators marched across Washington’s 11th Street Bridge on Tuesday to protest what they said was the failure of the $300 million bridge reconstruction project to hire enough workers from the District.

Carrying signs reading, “DC Jobs for DC Residents,” “I Want to Work” and “Jobs for Justice,” the group walked the downstream span of the twin bridges, which cross the Anacostia River, urging motorists to honk in support.

On the Anacostia side, they gathered in Anacostia Park, across from an entrance to the giant construction site, where they chanted, “We need jobs! We need jobs!” and were addressed by D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).

The project — the District’s largest-ever transportation construction endeavor — will replace the two existing bridges with three new spans. Designed to ease traffic flow across the river, it began in December 2009 and is scheduled to be finished in 2013.

Despite its size, duration and location beside some of Washington’s neediest communities, the protesters contended that few people from those neighborhoods have landed jobs on the project.

“The local citizens are protesting the fact that they are being excluded from the employment process at a construction site that’s merely two miles from where they live,” said Donald M. Temple, a D.C. lawyer who spoke for the group.

He said the protest was sponsored by D.C. Jobs or Else, a citizens coalition.

“We have 30 percent unemployment in Southeast Washington, and less than 10 percent of the workers here, we think, are from the District of Columbia,” Temple said. “Then they tell us that they can’t find qualified workers, or the workers are on drugs.”

“It’s atrocious,” he added, “and people are getting fed up with it. . . . These are predominantly poor, African American workers. . . . These people are being reduced to second-class citizenship, and it’s unacceptable.”

One of the demonstrators, Wesley Faucette, 35, of Southeast Washington, said he has been out of work for five years. “A lot of us have been invited to a lot of these job programs,” he said. “Everybody’s done applications, but no one’s getting callbacks.”

“Everybody wants a job,” he said. “We all want to support our families.”

Antonio Dixon, 38, also of Southeast, said he has been unemployed since last August.

“We should be able to work on these projects because we live here,” he said. “Look at all these unemployed people out here, where you’ve got people that don’t even live here working right now. That don’t make sense.”

John Lisle, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, which oversees the bridge project, said the department is sympathetic and has been working with the contractors to get more District residents hired.

“These are legitimate concerns,” he said.

He said the contractors may need certain kinds of workers skilled in building bridges or working over water.

“It may not be as simple as telling a contractor they need to hire more D.C. residents,” he said. “At the same time, employment is one of the priorities the mayor has set out. We want to make sure that D.C. residents have the same opportunities as everybody else.”

Barry joined the protesters in their chants, and then told the gathering, “I believe in the . . . richest city in America, everybody who wants to work ought to have a job.”

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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