Westville activists challenge hiring policies

A group of men gathered across the street from a towering construction site in Westville on Monday to protest what they say are unfair hiring practices for local residents in the construction trades.

The protest took place at the site of the future Wintergreen at Westville, a massive apartment complex that stretches across the entire block of Blake Street where it is being built. About 15 men, all affiliated with the nascent activist group Man-Up — an advocacy group for black males — attended the protest.

Alan Felder, a plumber and the president of Man-Up, said the company responsible for developing the site, Virginia-based Metropolitan Development, has been paying Latino immigrants low wages rather than attempting to hire workers from the predominantly black Westville neighborhood.

“They’ve got Mexicans and Latinos,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re legal or illegal, but the site should represent the community. We’re just asking for equality.”

Across the street, the mostly Latino laborers continued working and did not respond to the protest.

The developer of the site could not be reached for comment.

Felder called Wintergreen at Westville “the mother that birthed” Man-Up, which he said was founded in response both to Metropolitan’s unfair hiring practices and to the rising youth violence the city has seen in recent months.

He said the city had told Man-Up that since there is no city, state or federal money involved in Wintergreen’s construction, the government has no control over Metropolitan’s hiring practices. But Felder said the city is using a double standard because it has been able to resolve similar complaints in the past.

“When it’s somebody like Yale, or Yale-New Haven Hospital, they sit down at the table,” Felder said. “They make policy.”

Terry Holmes, a dental assistant and a Blake Street resident, stopped at the protest and started talking to Jerome Perkins, a contractor who said he has not been able to find work recently.

“They’re hiring people from Texas, from Tennessee, from New Jersey,” Perkins told Holmes.

Holmes said she knows people in the apartment next door to hers that are looking for work.

“I see where they’re coming from,” she said. “This makes me want to find out a lot more about [the construction project].”

Perkins said he did not understand why the city is refusing to get involved since more jobs translate into more taxes for city coffers. He pointed to a man in the crowd and said the man had been forced to go to New London to find a job, while Metropolitan is hiring outside workers.

“They’re not paying them fair wages either,” he said, referring to the hired workers. “And we’ve got people on the streets looking for work.”

No one working on the construction site would comment on the protest.

Holmes said that while she does not feel neighborhood residents have been uninformed about the details and the progress of Wintergreen at Westville, she thinks the site is simply too big for its surroundings.

“They’re building 250 to 300 apartments!” she said. “Two hundred and fifty to 300! It blocks out the sunset. They’ve destroyed an ecosystem.”

Felder said Man-Up will be taking its message to other sites around the city. He said the New Haven government must intervene and do more to hire workers from the black community.

“They said they have no civic obligation,” he said. “But they have a moral obligation. How is it that when your neighbor comes asking for bread, you turn away?”

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