Labor Official Blamed As CTA Gets Ready To Lay Off Ex-Offenders

(CBS) — With tempers flaring and voices raised, the battle over 65 so-called “second chance” jobs for ex-offenders was intensified Thursday.

Ministers, a congressman and several aldermen threatened a local labor leader who’s refusing to back down.

It’s a confusing battle, CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports.

In a way, its David and Goliath, and David’s not giving in.

“They’re playing with peoples’ lives, and they’re trying to make me the bad guy. It’s not going to work,” Robert Kelly, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 308, said.

Kelly was responding to this afternoon’s protest by those claiming he was bad boy here and preventing the program from continuing.

“Robert Kelly is acting like a terrorist, and the hostages are 65 lives,” Father Michael Pfleger said.

The CTA provided video of the apprentice program, in which ex-offenders are paid $9 an hour to clean rail cars overnight, so that higher-paid regular workers can spot-clean after each rush hour.

The transit agency says the program will end, and the workers will be laid off on Jan. 1 — unless Kelly agrees to extend it.

The labor official says the CTA hasn’t come to the table to discuss the program.

Outside union headquarters, speakers lined up one after another to urge Kelly to give in.

“We’re going to take on the union and anybody who’s sympathetic to these hard-hearted, callous union leaders who are playing Scrooge,” Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush said.

Kelly says the activists have turned the dispute into a racial issue, which he calls “disgusting.”

Most of Kelly’s members are Black and Latino, which is one reason he’s sensitive to the racial overtones of the debate.

CTA boss Forrest Claypool was unavailable for comment and on his way back from Washington.

Kelly says they’ve not met face to face in a year.

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