Originally published in WGEM, August 27, 2020.

Springfield, IL - The Illinois Department of Transportation is facing questions over complaints of systemic racism. Current and former employees are calling for workplace equity and protocols to end racism in hiring and selection of contractors for statewide projects, especially in Southern Illinois.

Members of the Senate Transportation Committee asked IDOT officials how they plan to address the recent allegations. Transportation Secretary Omer Osman says racism, sexual harassment, and discrimination are not acceptable at the agency. Osman emphasized he is taking the discrimination complaint seriously.

"Any employee who has been a victim of discrimination can file an internal complaint with IDOT EEO or civil rights. Or, they may file externally if they don't want to go that route," Osman explained.

The Department's legal counsel says employees go through regular training to try and prevent discrimination similar to protocols with other state agencies. Osman said IDOT will enhance efforts to stop discrimination following recent attacks on minorities across the country.

Equity in project selection 

At the same time, lawmakers are looking to address transparency and equity within the department's project selection process. Committee members want to see more construction approved for communities of color frequently overlooked by the state.

Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) says many people have lost confidence in IDOT because of racism and disparities found within the agency. Still, she is glad to see the department is working on opening up projects and planning initiatives for minority contractors.

"I'd like to see some outreach done in various minority communities to make contractors aware that you have those initiatives launched, and that you're asking them and encouraging them to be on them," Hunter said.

Still, Committee Chair Ram Villivalam says this conversation isn't over.

"The people of Illinois deserve to understand how, why, and where that money is spent. The decisions have to be equitable and transparent," Villivalam added.

Category: In The News

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