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Protesters Block St. Louis Highway

July 12, 1999

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Several hundred workers and activists formed a human barricade Monday morning across a major highway to demand that more minorities be hired for state construction jobs.

``We can’t take it anymore,″ said Cleo Willis, an unemployed welder who sat cross legged in the middle of the highway. ``We’re ready to go to work.″

No one was injured and there were no scuffles with police, but 125 people were taken into custody.

Those arrested, including New York activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, were immediately released but ordered to appear Aug. 17 on charges of impeding the flow of traffic and failing to obey a police order.

Members of MO-KAN, a group representing minority contractors, staged the protest on Interstate 70, the site of a construction project. MO-KAN has been pressuring the state to increase the number of minority firms working state jobs, especially road work done in minority neighborhoods.

``How dare they build a highway down the middle of north St. Louis and have no minority contractors,″ said Marcus Hindmon, MO-KAN president.

But Rick Grebel, president of KCI Construction Co., said his company has a goal of hiring 20 percent minority workers and was up to 15 percent prior to Monday’s protest.

``We try to keep a qualified work force and qualified workers come in all colors,″ he said.

Two of the chief contractors on the I-70 project said they would add another $500,000 in subcontracts to minority firms.

Federal law requires 10 percent minority participation on projects throughout the state. In the St. Louis transportation district, minority and women contractors make up 14 percent of projects, said Linda Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

But MO-KAN said it was not good enough. The group wants 25 cents of every dollar spent on the I-70 reconstruction project to go to minority-owned firms and for 35 percent of the work force to be minorities.

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