Lakeshore News Tonight

Jobs Coalition Fights to End Unemployment Gap

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October 28, 2013  — There are jobs throughout the Northwest Indiana Region and there are people out of work, but two are not mixing.  So, a group of leaders is doing something about it.

“The City of Gary’s unemployment rate is five times that of the state.  Our unemployment rate exceeds 30 percent.  For African American males it exceeds 50 percent.  70 percent of the children in public education in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago live at or below the poverty level,” said Dwight Gardner, who serves as President of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations .

For the past two years, Gardner and the rest of the members of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations have worked to get more residents in impoverished areas jobs on publicly funded construction projects.  Gardner, who pastors Trinity Baptist Church in Gary, said the group wants projects within the footprint of the Regional Development Authority to employ people who already are out of work in 14 disparaged communities.  The people, who have been identified residing in disparaged zip codes by the federal government, include Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, Lake Station and Hobart.  Gardner said many of the publicly funded RDA projects in those zip codes, like one at Chicago’s third airport, are not being filled by people who reside in the area where the work is being done.

“With well over 80 percent of the Gary Regional Airport construction being completed, less than five percent of the man hours paid on the job have gone to people who live in the local community,” Gardner said.

The group is working to get the RDA to sign on to a Regional Community Benefits Agreement. While poverty can lead to crime, the agreement specifically focuses on training up local workers.

Garnder said the CBA focuses on, “Job readiness training, seamless transition from training to apprenticeship programs. It will include a first source hiring component where we will look for people from our own community first.  It asks that 30 percent of all man hours paid on RDA funded projects be paid to people from the 14 disparaged zip codes.”

The group also wants a measurable compliance component to ensure the agreement is being followed.  Gardner said the group is doing the work through its Jobs Coalition, which includes support from the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor and SEIU Labor Union.  Resolutions have also been penned by the Gary Common Council and East Chicago City Council.  Gardner said nothing has come from the RDA.

“The mission statement of the RDA plainly states that job creation for the local community is a very important part of its mandate and mission, and in that part of its mandate and mission it has failed miserably.  Our people need opportunities to go to work. They need training in order that they may get jobs that will help them support their families.”

The RDA did not respond to an email regarding the Community Benefits Agreement by publishing time.

By Renetta DuBose

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