By Ashley Chambers
Community groups and leaders have come together to support local workers who have been trying for several years to fill the jobs that have been promised with so much fanfare at the Oakland Army Base development project.
Seeking to help job seekers overcome barriers to employment, the Oakland Post has taken the initiative to set up a worker assistance fund to help job seekers pay for work equipment and other fees.
Supporting the fund are Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the West Oakland Job Resource Center, the Urban Strategies Council and City Administrator Fred Blackwell.
The fund is kicking off by providing support for four workers, who have years of experience in the building and construction trades but have struggled to pay for work equipment and cover union fees, which could allow them to qualify for union jobs at the Army Base project.
So far, the four have not made much headway in either of the two job pathways – going through a local union or sponsorship by a company. A letter of sponsorship from one of the companies working on the development would give these local job seekers two years of permanent employment, says Fernander Thompson, an Oakland resident who has devoted his efforts since 2012 to getting hired on the Army Base .
Thompson, along with Jeffery Duckett, Johnny Evans, and Otis Duckett, have worked temporary warehouse jobs for the past three years to make ends meet.
Still, they remain hopeful that with the necessary resources and a sponsor, they will finally get a chance to put their skills to work on the Army Base.
“We’ve been waiting,” says Duckett. “I want to get into the Army Base like everybody else is getting in there. I’m ready to work; we just haven’t had the opportunity.”
These four workers, like so many others, do not lack training. With many years in warehousing, construction, landscaping, and welding, they are highly experienced. In addition, they have worked closely with the West Oakland Job Resource Center to enhance their skills with workshop trainings and apprenticeship programs.
They, like many other job seekers in West Oakland, are counting on the promise of Army Base jobs for local residents.
“West Oakland was particularly impacted by the loss of jobs with the close of the Army Base. It’s really critical that West Oakland residents are empowered to receive the jobs that are returning to the base,” says Brigitte Cook, West Oakland Community Liaison at Councilmember Lynette McElhaney’s office.
“The job center is working to get residents to apply and be qualified for these positions. We’re tracking the number of residents, particularly in the 94607 and 94608 areas, to see how successful our outreach is and make sure our efforts are going to encourage West Oakland residents to apply for those positions,” Cook continued.
Andreas Cluver, Secretary-Treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, encourages job seekers looking to get into construction to first go through pre-apprenticeship programs.
“[Construction] is a difficult industry to get into, but pre-apprenticeship programs are so essential. Their chances of success are going to be much higher,” Cluver said.
As far as funding, Cluver adds, “The city should continue funding these programs to ensure that [job seekers] have access to the services they need. That really needs to be coming from public sources.”
The promised worker support funding that was meant to be part of the West Oakland Job Resource Center has not materialized. That money was supposed to come form revenue from billboards, which have not been built.
Duckett, Thompson, Evans, and Duckett have already received contributions towards their work equipment but are still looking for donors to cover their union dues, and are seeking a company sponsor. They have committed to reimburse the funds paid after they find permanent employment so that job seekers after them can also receive the benefits.
The Post will be following this story and tracking the progress of these four men and their journey to employment.
For more information on how to make a contribution, call the Oakland Post at (510) 287-8207.
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 25, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)