April 2, 2014
New York, NY – Supporters of a “Good Jobs Summit” which would enlist a wide variety of stakeholders from the building and construction trades, real estate industry and community-at-large, say that such a meeting could help transform the city by simultaneously tackling both minority youth unemployment, and the loss of good-paying unionized jobs – and they want Mayor Bill de Blasio to champion the cause and make it all happen.
“It’s an important moment in time to focus on this issue,” Professor Ester Fuchs told LaborPress. “But the only way we’re going to get any movement is if we get some leadership from City Hall.”
Professor Fuchs is the co-author along with Professor Dorian Warren, of a recently-released study by Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, which lauds the success of a pre-apprenticeship curriculum that has placed almost 1500 New York City high school kids in union apprenticeship programs since its inception back in 2001.
The Department of Education initially helped establish the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills along with union construction contractors and organized labor over a decade ago. The city later all but abandoned the program, however, and it has since become a 501c3 non-profit, building upon an initial success which now boasts a 75 percent student completion rate. Of those minority students who successfully complete the course, 82 percent go on to begin solidly middle-class careers that begin while still training in union apprenticeship programs.
“These are the highest numbers I’ve ever seen,” Fuchs added. “We think this is a really interesting model that can be used more broadly.”
Presently, 10 percent of apprenticeship openings are reserved for high school graduates who participated in the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills. Professors Fuchs believes that with better building standards put in place, and Mayor de Blasio leading the charge, that number can be pushed to 30 percent.
Getting there, however, will require significant changes in the way that developments have been done since the Bloomberg era.
“We have no doubt that the mayor is committed to making sure that when we build these projects, we create good jobs,” said Paul Fernandes, chief of staff, Building and Construction Trades Council. “But we have to have the policies put in place that will make that commitment real.”
Because the guaranteed apprentice positions are contingent upon how many construction jobs are actually available, the disastrous trend of dwindling union jobs – even in the face of a projected 10-year construction boom – must first be reversed.
Unemployment among young adults in New York City, meanwhile, is reportedly close to 20 percent. And the difference between flipping burgers for a living and securing a solid career in construction over the course of an individual’s working life is an estimated $1.6 million.
“It’s important for the future of the union movement and for the city as a whole to find avenues of middle class employment for minority youth,” Professor Fuchs said.
According to Fernandes, the city must, indeed, do a better job of implementing improved standards on private projects that – while benefitting from public assistance – still get away with sidestepping union jobs that provide good wages, health insurance, retirement security and safety training.
“There are too many project now where the standard is minimum wage, and that’s not acceptable,” Fernandes said. “I think to the extent that the [Columbia] report is recommending a summit that focuses on those kinds of issues, that would be a good thing to do in the next couple of months.”
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but now that the heat surrounding the fight for universal pre-K has dissipated, it is believed that the administration will next concentrate its collective energies on pushing for affordable housing.
“This needs to be part of the housing conversation,” Professor Fuchs said. “Early in an administration is the time in which you can best get these kinds of things in focus.”