About 100 demonstrators marched on the site of the Hechinger Mall in Northeast Washington yesterday, protesting what they said was the failure of mall contractors to hire neighborhood blacks as construction workers in accordance with the District of Columbia's residential employment plan.
The mall's owner, John Hechinger Jr., a prominent liberal Democrat who is active in D.C. politics, said he was "shocked and disappointed" that he had been targeted for protest.
"We probably have the best affirmative action of any construction site in town," Hechinger said. "I don't know why they are doing this to us."
Hechinger said that 33 percent of the construction work on the $10 million mall has been assigned to minority firms. He added that 41 percent of those on the construction work force are District of Columbia residents.
City and federal regulations stipulate the project, which has received a $3.5 million federal loan through the D.C. Department of Housing and Community development, must hire, whenever pososible, minority residents from the riot-scarred H Street NE area.
Although no official hiring goal has been set for the Hechinger site, Mayor Marion Barry recently set a 51 percent minority hiring goal for the Convention Center project. Community activists in turn have adopted that figure for other construction sites.
"So the Godfather of D.C. is shocked, huh?" said Rev. Stan Barry, director of the H Street Project Area Committee, which maintains a pool of construction workers available for work on the Mall project. "Well, I'm shocked, too. Only 18 people from our community have been hired. It doesn't make me feel good to have to protest against John, but I made commitments too, and my credibility is on the line."
The demonstrators also criticized the District of Columbia government for "failure to enforce its own laws," particularly those requiring apprenticeship programs in the construction field. Although the Hechinger Mall has an apprenticeship plan that has been approved by the D.C. Apprenticeship Council, no apprentices have been indentured so far, according to council staff. The project is expected to be completed in April.
After the demonstration yesterday, formal complaints were lodged against the project with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, the D.C. Department of Employment Services and the city's Department of Housing and Community Development.
Each of these agencies has contract compliance review offices that can investigate the complaints. Although none of them can stop payment of the loan to the project, they could find it in "noncompliance," and jeopardize future grant monies for other projects.
"We refuse to tolerate government indifference, incompetence and inaction any longer," said Charles Richardson, head of the D.C. Jobs Coalition. "The failure of the government to conduct adequate reviews, failure of the contractors to comply with federal payroll guidelines and failure to enforce laws pertaining to aprenticeship job training through systematic discrimination have led to adverse impact of the quality of life on minorities and women in our city," she said.
Other participants in the demonstration included the Washington Building Trade Council, which is upset because only seven of the 30 contractors working on the Mall are unionized.