Listen to Pastors Walker and Gilbert, as well as protesters, here:
“We live in this city. Many of us are born in this city. It’s only fair that we have an opportunity to work and feed our families,” Pastor Patrick Walker, president of the Missionary Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Washington, D.C., told a gathering at Greater New Hope Baptist Church on Thursday.
Pastor Walker’s remarks came just minutes before he and other clergy members led a one-block march to the site of the $950 million CityCenter project in downtown D.C. at 10th and H Streets, NW. Protesters, most of them native Washingtonians, shut down the entrances to the 10-acre construction site, chanting, “Clark Construction’s got to go!”
The event was organized by DC Jobs Or Else, which describes itself as “a coalition of churches, community groups and labor organizations.” The Laborers’ International Union of North America, LiUNA!, plays a leading role in the organization, as does the Missionary Baptist Ministers’ Conference.
“We see the injustice that’s being done against the residents of the District of Columbia,” said Pastor George Gilbert Sr., chairman of the Civic and Social Action Committee of the Missionary Baptist Ministers’ Conference, as he marched around the site, which is now a massive hole in the earth. Pastor Gilbert and others say Clark Construction, which is handling much of the construction services for the project, is hiring few District residents.
Clark Construction says it will provide TheFightBack with the number of District residents it has hired on the project, as well as the number of hours District residents have worked. (Unions stress that hours worked is a more accurate gauge because if a District resident is let go after a couple days on the job, which they say happens frequently, that still counts as a new hire.)
DC Jobs Or Else contends that a substantial number of jobs should be provided to District residents since D.C. has made an unprecedented investment in the project, offering up five blocks of some of the world’s most sought after real estate. The project’s principal owner, Qatari Diar, a sovereign fund of the state of Qatar, is investing $700 million.
To the surprise of unions, after the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America won a ruling from Department of Labor that called for prevailing wages to be paid on the project, the District sued to have the decision overturned.
“The One Percenters is killing us, man,” said Eric Carter Bey, a 48-year-old native Washingtonian who’s looking for work and has carpentry skills. “They come in the city, steal money [and jobs] and we can’t lock ‘em up,” Bey said of Clark Construction. “But what we gonna do is shut their ass down.”