Schenectady County

Schenectady group wants jobs for minority residents

A coalition of religious and neighborhood groups is joining forces with the city to create jobs for
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A coalition of religious and neighborhood groups is joining forces with the city to create jobs for residents who have criminal backgrounds, limited education and no money for transportation or child care.

The program, which is still in the conceptual stage, would employ “hard-to-place” minority residents on a city-funded construction project, where they would learn on the job. No project has been picked yet, but organizers are leaning toward using the $14 million Erie Boulevard reconstruction, which is to start next year.

The program was proposed by ARISE, which represents a group of churches and neighborhood organizations throughout the state and has recently been active in Schenectady. Members brought up the idea on Monday, received immediate support, and met with city officials Tuesday to begin working out the details.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton said he’s eager to try it.

“We haven’t had as much success as we would like to, getting minorities into the building trades, particularly from our city,” he said.

ARISE member Andreas Kriefall said his agency’s program addresses the reasons why impoverished inner-city workers haven’t been able to break into the construction trade.

“If you have any kind of drug problems, if you don’t have a car or your car breaks down, childcare … one of the reasons it’s difficult to find apprentices for good-paying construction jobs is because those challenges are not addressed,” Kriefall said.

In the ARISE program, funding would be set aside to help the workers get to the job site, provide childcare and offer other support. All contractors working on the project would be required to choose among those workers for a percentage of their total workforce — possibly as much as 20 percent.

The work would be temporary, lasting only as long as the project. But Stratton said the job would qualify, under construction union rules, as a pre-apprenticeship that could help the worker meet the requirements to start a union apprenticeship. Among other needs, the job could provide the worker with enough money to buy a car — if he or she saved a portion of each week’s paycheck. Union apprentices are required to have a car because many construction sites are not on the bus line.

Officials at city job agencies have long complained that such rules put their clients in a catch-22: they can’t afford the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs until they get a job. Some have estimated that workers would need less than a month at a construction job to afford the tools needed for full-time employment, but said their clients had no way of getting that work because they didn’t already have the equipment.

Kriefall said the ARISE program could solve that dilemma.

SUCCESS CITED

The program appears to have a solid track record. Kriefall said it worked in other cities, most recently Albany, where the school district was able to negotiate and enforce ambitious minority employment goals on its massive elementary schools construction project.

Albany schools spokesman Ron Lesko said the program was a success. “We’ve been pleased with the results.”

Stratton is enthusiastic, although he noted that some important details have yet to be determined, including the cost of providing transportation, daycare and other services. But, he said, he would be willing to use Community Development Block Grant money to support the program if necessary.

“I’m in favor of the concept — it’s very intriguing to me,” he said. “This is something we would find useful. I think it’s something worthwhile.”

ARISE has also offered to help pay for the program, Stratton said.

The nonprofit, whose name stands for A Regional Initiative Supporting Empowerment, collects donations and applies for grants from foundations. It also receives regular dues from all churches that have joined the agency.

Its mission statement emphasizes the need for real change rather than just support.

“Rather than running soup kitchens or homeless shelters, we are empowering the poor and people of conscience to connect with their governments to get training, jobs, housing, quality education, and equal justice,” the statement reads.

ARISE currently has 35 religious and neighborhood organizations in Albany, Rensselaer, and Schenectady counties, with a total membership there of more than 12,000 people.

Categories: Schenectady County

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