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Community News: Southwest

CRENSHAW : Job Activist Targets Black-Owned Firm

August 22, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

The latest attempt by labor activist Deacon Alexander to add members of his Los Angeles Unemployed Council to a local construction crew targeted an African-American contractor, who angrily denounced Alexander's campaign as unreasonable.

Alexander, whose Unemployed Council has garnered attention for its aggressive tactics in shutting down job sites that it perceives are not hiring enough African-Americans from surrounding communities, picketed a site on Aug. 10 run by Freeman Development and Construction, a black-owned firm that is rebuilding a riot-damaged mini-mall at Vermont and Vernon avenues.

"He goes too far with this," said Chico Freeman, owner of the construction firm. "I understand he wants more blacks hired, but I'm black and I employ black subcontractors. But he won't listen to reason. He just wants his demands met."

Alexander picketed the site to demand that Freeman hire at least three members of the Unemployed Council. Freeman said he offered to hire one member, but Alexander refused and returned to the site a day later, when he was arrested on trespassing charges and a warrant misdemeanor, said a Police Department spokesman.

At least a dozen council members picketed the Southwest station on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where Alexander was held for two days. Alexander was released on the morning of Aug. 14 after Freeman declined to press charges. Alexander, claiming he was not on private property at the time of the arrest, said he plans to file charges against the Police Department for harassment.

Although it generally targets sites owned and operated by contractors who are not African-American, the Unemployed Council has picketed black-run sites five times, said council spokesman Ron Lamount.

Freeman pointed out that six of his 12 subcontractors are black, but Alexander said he is more interested in the ethnic makeup of the workers hired by the subcontractors.

"I didn't see one black face on the site," Alexander said. "Freeman may have black subs, but I'm not dealing with that. Just because you're black doesn't necessarily mean you hire blacks, which was the case here."

Freeman called Alexander's complaints "ridiculous," saying that the majority of black-operated subcontractors--including those who will do plumbing, roofing, stucco, painting, insulation and drywall work--have not yet broken ground. "He's not looking at the whole job picture, only at what he wants," Freeman said.

Freeman added that subcontractors are entitled to hire whomever they think is suitable for the job. "Frankly, a lot of Deacon's guys aren't qualified," he said. "A lot aren't insured, don't have tools or skills. If there's laborer work, we consider them for that, but not the rest of it."

Alexander said he will not be returning to Freeman's site. "The job is already 25% completed, and that's not worth our time," he said.

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