Union readies low-income trainees for Got Green jobs
Graduates of the first weatherization training course sponsored by a laborers union in Seattle hope that billions in federal stimulus money to weatherize homes nationwide will create demand for the new skills they have learned.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ahmalik Claiborne stood onstage at the Seattle Labor Temple last week and thanked Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) for restoring his faith in the idea that help can still reach those who need it most.
The 38-year-old knows all about trying to find help. He's been homeless for a year and a half.
Claiborne is one of 19 trainees to graduate from the first weatherization course held by the union's Local 242. The program aims to provide the work force necessary to weatherize homes and promote energy savings in the Seattle area.
The federal government is pouring $5 billion in economic-stimulus money into residential weatherization nationwide.
"I'm sure I can get a job," Claiborne said. "We are at the start of something good."
Half of the class were union members, but the other half — including Claiborne — were from an organization called Got Green, founded last year to help people from disadvantaged communities develop skills needed to pursue green jobs.
"We think it's important ... to have programs like Got Green to raise awareness in low-income communities who might very much want to be involved," said Michael Woo, one of Got Green's founders.
"They become the ambassadors for the environmental movement," Woo said. "They're our future."
Organizers said they want to run three training sessions of 10 students each next year — but only if there are jobs waiting on the other end.
While the new graduates don't yet have jobs, demand for workers is expected to grow. Washington state is set to receive a total of $60 million in federal stimulus money for weatherization by next year.
The Obama administration "has made it very clear to everyone that they see this work as not only important for climate change but also for creating pathways out of poverty," said Steve Marquardt, the research director and regional weatherization coordinator for Local 242.
"They're encouraging everyone to train folks like those from Got Green," he said.
At a graduation ceremony Thursday, Richard Conlin, president of the Seattle City Council, announced a new policy that says 75 percent of workers hired by weatherization contractors for the city must come from training programs such as LiUNA's.
The class costs about $1,800 per student. This time, the cost was covered by the Northwest Training Trust Fund, which is funded by union workers. The union has applied for grants to pay for future sessions.
The program includes a five-day prerequisite course for basic construction skills and a 10-day installer course in such work as weather stripping, caulking and insulation. In the future, trainees also will go through a five-day safety and hazard class. Class runs eight hours a day and includes lots of hands-on training.
For Claiborne, finding a job is a vital step in getting out of homelessness. But he said the kind of work he does is important to him, too.
"I want to make sure that when I do work, I affect the community — spawn seeds to make people more aware of the environment, conserve what you got and not be selfish," he said.
Marquardt said that at least one local contractor plans to hire some of the trainees but doesn't know how many.
LiUNA also is working with Seattle Jobs Initiative, a nonprofit that helps people find living-wage jobs.
"We also took a couple of contractors out to our training center ... and they were pretty impressed," Marquardt said. "We definitely know that some of them are going to get jobs, and pretty soon."
Molly Rosbach: 206-464-2311 or email@example.com
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