Joined by about 30 of his employees, Community Empowerment Association founder Rashad Byrdsong stopped cars, blocked intersections and called for more Black jobs during a vocal protest at the Target store construction site in East Liberty.
“We demand Target immediately begin to invest in workforce development and training for community residents by partnering with those community-based agencies that have experience and rapport with the community that it serves,” he shouted through a megaphone.
“We also demand first-source hiring with community residents as the first priority, also partnered with a community-based organization with experience and expertise in job training.”
Byrdsong also berated Target for offering residents “miniscule cashier, stocking and customer service positions” when the store will make millions.
Byrdsong said he wasn’t there to attack Target specifically, but to talk generally about corporations like Target coming into the community.
“We wanted to create awareness and ask what kind of investment are they willing to make in the community, for education, for housing. We need to sit down and negotiate that,” he said. “We need to maximize investment in distressed communities like the East End. We, as a community, should have the same right to negotiate labor deals as unions. Why should they have the monopoly?”
Kevin Mickens, a workforce facilitator with East Liberty Development Inc., said Target will bring more than 200 permanent jobs to the East End at a time when Black unemployment locally is above 16 percent.
“Since July, Target has sponsored National Night Out activities and participated in two job fairs,” he said. “One in July at the Kingsley Association focused on construction jobs. The one in November looked at Target careers. About 1,200 people attended.”
Chuck Powell at the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, said of the $10 million awarded to Bridges Construction to build the store, $3.6 million went to Black owned subcontractors.
“In all my years with the URA, the Target project has been the most diverse I’ve seen,” he said. ”Beyond the contracting, of the 100 laborers hired, 25 were African-Americans.”
Roland Criswell, president of the Larimer Consensus Group, said he believes Target has done what has been required of them, but little beyond that.
“There are African-Americans on the job site, but not as many as we’d have liked,” he said. “Going forward, we are working to have Target do targeted hiring from the 15206 and 15208 Zip Codes.”
Target site Representative Dennis Knopick said Byrdsong’s MAAT Construction firm did put in a bid as a subcontractor, but was not aligned with the prime contractor, Bridges, that won the contract.
“That’s life. But if there is any additional work outside the normal scope, maybe he can do some of that,” he said. “Going forward, Target will be doing monthly meetings with the community and in January and February will start advertising and making presentations on a final job fair. We’ll probably look at 2,500 applicants for 200 slots—but we will look at all of them.”
As Birdsong began his Dec. 2 protest, however, he was met by Harold “Mac” McDonald of the Regional Council of Carpenters unions, who asked why he wasn’t there when they were protesting the hiring of non-union concrete workers.
As for Byrdsong’s complaints about a lack of Black employment on the job, McDonald said he has 12 carpenters on the job now, six of them are African-Americans—and one of them is a woman.
Carpenter Gary Beaman, who’s been in the union since 2007, was more critical of CEA’s motives, noting that the only community-based organization that fits Byrdsong’s demands is CEA.
“Rashad is about Rashad, not the community,” said Beaman. “I grew up in Homewood on Kelly Street and worked for him years ago. He paid us minimum wage, and gave us no training or safety instruction. If he was about the community, he wouldn’t have paid us slave wages.”
Mike Frazier, another union carpenter, said Byrdsong had a point about getting more African-Americans on jobs like this in the heart of the Black community.
“If you want people that look like me on these jobs, you need companies owned and run by people who look like me,” said Frazier.
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