Tollway seeking to increase hiring of minority contractors

Editor's note: This sotry has been updated to correct that the Illinois tollway has a 15-year $12 billion road-building program.

Facing a shortfall in minority contractors, Illinois tollway directors Wednesday took steps to increase participation by businesses owned by women, Hispanics, blacks and Asians in its $12 billion road-building program.

Diversity and Inclusion Committee members endorsed plans to offer mentoring and training to encourage minority businesses. The agency is also looking at ways to offer incentives to get big construction companies to hire more minority-owned subcontractors.

A 2015 study commissioned by the tollway concluded that, despite efforts to broaden its base of contractors, "discrimination on the basis of race and gender continues to operate in the tollway's construction and construction-related markets."

Tollway directors insisted that labor unions and major construction firms be part of ongoing discussions to diversify contracts.

"We have to get the road builders and unions to buy into the idea they have to participate in employing (minorities) at a better rate than they have been," Director Joseph Gomez of Northfield said.

Director James Sweeney, president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, added that "we have to have the stakeholders at the table, we have to have them together, so the (untruths) can be called out."

The 2015 report found that minority firms received about 21 percent of tollway contract dollars with white male-owned firms getting the remainder. Of that percentage, black-owned firms received 1.13 percent compared to white female-owned firms with 3.85 percent, Asian firms with 4.3 percent and Hispanic firms with 11.5 percent.

An analysis of contracts from 2010 through 2012 showed white firms getting the lion's share - $1.3 billion out of $1.7 billion in contracts.

With engineering contracts, for example, white male-owned firms were paid $246 million compared to Asian firms receiving $51.4 million, female firms earning $9.6 million, black firms with $9.6 million and Hispanic firms with $6.7 million.

Bias in tollway hiring continues, study finds

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