Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=100751
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 1:38:45 AM CST
Yvonne McGinnis stands outside of her company's offices at 2628 S. Wabash. She wants her cleaning contract back with Soldier Field.
Cleaning firm protests at Bears games over lost contract
When Bears fans return to Soldier Field this Sunday, they will see more than thousands dressed in navy and orange.
They will be greeted by protesters from a small Chicago cleaning company.
Workers and supporters of We're Cleaning Inc. have been rallying at home games this season.
Owner Yvonne McGinnis’ staff cleaned bathrooms and wiped down stadium seats for 19 years. But now, We’re Cleaning Inc., which employs eight full-time workers and temps as needed, no longer services Soldier Field. It was replaced by East Lake Management and Development, which began work at the stadium in April.
Why? McGinnis doesn't know, but she says it could be a case of Chicago politics.
East Lake manages more than 20 commercial properties and more than 10,000 housing units across four states. The corporation is owned by Elzie Higginbottom, a top fundraiser for Mayor Daley in the African-American community.
“Why would I be replaced with a management company to clean,” McGinnis asks. “[Higginbottom] just walked in and took it.”
East Lake officials say they have only heard rumors about the protests and are unaware of the circumstances by which McGinnis’ contract was not renewed.
“We got hired because we know how to clean large facilities,” said Eileen Rhodes, East Lake’s vice president. “Any [talk] that we got it because of clout are just mischaracterizations.”
SMG is the firm responsible for the management of Soldier Field. The property itself is owned by the Chicago Park District, which requires a certain percentage of its projects to go to certified minority-owned businesses.
McGinnis’ company, formally a sub-contractor for SMG, is certified both as a minority- and female-owned business enterprise with the city of Chicago. East Lake was issued its certificate as minority-owned on May 31.
By then, McGinnis was already long gone.
She acknowledges that she came up short on certain days, when temporary agencies didn't give her all the people she requested. But she is proud that she has employed thousands of African-Americans in her career, some who didn't have jobs or homes.
Despite what she describes as years of dependable service, she received word from SMG last November that it was going in a new direction.
“[SMG] said I could maybe be kept on to clean the stadium garage but that was it,” McGinnis said. “It's October and we haven't been back. I want that job back.”
SMG’s own contract with the Park District was renewed last February. SMG chose East Lake to replace McGinnis’ company. East Lake uses Chicago Contract Cleaning and temporary agencies to perform services.
Last month, McGinnis sued the Chicago Park District for squandering taxpayer money, according to her attorney Louis Elovitz. Elovitz says the Park District told him its contract with SMG has not been executed and, because of that, is not public.
“SMG is getting hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep up Soldier Field from the Park District, and there’s no evidence of a signed contract between the two entities,” Elovitz said. “By not releasing the documents related to the contract and my client ... the Park District can then operate under a curtain of secrecy, which isn’t fair.”
Elovitz said the taxpayer suit was the best way to bring McGinnis’ situation to the court’s attention. He says the Park District is in violation of state law that requires all contracts through which an entity is paid more than $10,000 to be in writing, signed and approved by a board.
Chicago Park District spokeswoman Michelle Jones declined to comment on the pending lawsuit or the protests at Soldier Field.
An SMG official also declined to comment.
East Lake officials said the company applied for minority certification in November, around the time it was included in SMG's form of projected sub-contractors as a certified minority business. But the company that granted its certificate, the Chicago Minority Business Council, said East Lake didn't submit an application until April 18.
So the charges of political maneuvering continue.
“[East Lake] didn’t even have a MBE certificate when they were in the running for [McGinnis’] position,” said Calvin-Omar Johnson, co-founder of a coalition helping McGinnis fight back. “That’s like me waiting on my license and still driving a car ... that’s not fair to all these other small MBEs in the city that don’t have that luxury.”
And just as Bears fans expect their team to bounce back after last week's meltdown, McGinnis said she'll continue to fight.
“I have no plans of going away or standing on the sidelines,” McGinnis said. “The Park District and SMG can’t do whatever they want. Not to me.”