Chicago's ATU scholarship program under fire - New York News

Chicago's ATU scholarship program under fire

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The powerful head of Chicago's largest transit union, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), is coming under fire Thursday after FOX 32 learned his daughter won the union's top scholarship prize last year.

In addition to his daughter, the children of three leaders of the ATU local 308 won union scholarships worth up to $5,000 apiece.

Normally that wouldn't attract much attention, but in light of the fact that the union is now trying to kill a popular program that gives ex-offenders a second chance some African-American political leaders are incensed.

State Senator Donne Trotter is one of those politicians unhappy about the daughter of ATU president Robert Kelly winning the union's top scholarship prize in 2012.

Trotter said because Kelly is now trying to eliminate the CTA apprentice program that helps pay ex-felons to clean rail cars, it looks like Kelly won't extend a helping hand to the felons, but will help his daughter.

"The union president has this scholarship program in which he has essentially, or seemingly, has made into a benefit program for his friends and for himself," Trotter said.

Fox 32 has learned Kelly's daughter was awarded the $5,000 union scholarship in 2012 for an essay she wrote on funding mass transit.

In addition, three other children of top union officials won scholarships in the past three years.

The union represents a total of about 3,500 CTA rail workers

In a phone interview, Kelly told FOX 32 he didn't even know his daughter had entered the contest.

"I was shocked (when she won). But I have no problem with it. I think it's a witch hunt they're engaged in," Kelly said.

He continued saying the essays are submitted without names to an outside panel for judging.

He said only 11 essays were submitted the year his daughter won, and all of those who entered got some scholarship money.

Kelly makes $134,000 a year as union president. The average CTA union worker makes about $60,000.

"She may be very, very smart and very, very talented, very gifted in writing essays and deserved to win. But monetarily, there are probably people more deserving to win," Trotter said.

But it's the 65 ex-offenders about to lose their jobs that has inflamed the situation.

Since 2007, the CTA has hired about 800 felons into a program especially designed to give them a second chance.

They make about $9 an hour, less than the standard union wage.

During contract talks with the CTA, Kelly has threatened to kill the program, saying it's providing the CTA cheap labor that hurts the union.

However, proponents say it's a last chance for those nobody else will hire.

"What kind of message do you send out here to Chicago to somebody coming out of the joint that suddenly says I want to do the right thing? And all you're doing is firing them and laying them off? You're telling them you might as well go back to doing what you did because this society's not ready to let you in," Michael Pfleger said.

The money for the scholarship comes from the ATU's annual union golf outing, and contributions by union supporters including some companies that do business with the union.

So why are there only a handful of entries when there are thousands of union members? Kelly said they've tried to publicize the scholarships, but they still get little response.

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