Voices of Everyday Leaders

by Ayanna Albertson | October 31, 2019 3:43 pm

Look What Florida is Doing to Procure Job Security for Women and People of Color

In older generations, it was common to keep the same job for 10, 20 or even 30 years. Over time, between layoffs, outsourcing, downsizing, and other budget-related issues, many corporations and industries have made job security a foreign concept. In many corporations where employees aren’t allowed to unionize, people are subjected to harsh working conditions with very little protection and stability. Big companies aren’t looking to protect their workers as much as they are looking to produce their product and complete their projects. Although the national unemployment rate is relatively low, there is still a need to create better job security. Central Florida Jobs With Justice, a coalition of labor unions, community based organizations, faith-based and student groups coming together to build power for workers’ rights, is looking to do just that. 

With the importance of building careers while building communities at the forefront of their “Construction Careers Initiative,” they’re currently searching for individuals, specifically black women and people of color, ready to advance in a career that expands their skill sets, provides them with advanced educational opportunities, and offers the kind of job security that lasts a lifetime. 

  Chris Furino, an organizer at Jobs with Justice, is constantly on the ground looking for ways to advance their Construction Careers Initiative. “We must push back the narrative that construction is dominated by white men, and that the only way to make a living and have stability is going to college.” 

Through community organizing and unions, Jobs with Justice is creating a pipeline to apprenticeships and ultimately, long term job security. After receiving national certification in a specified trade, these jobs come with benefits and high paying wages. The desire to recruit black women, people of color, low-income individuals,  and returning citizens (those formerly incarcerated), is not only to provide job security, but to afford them the opportunity to develop in leadership roles while taking part in building their communities.

“Unlike big corporations, unions have the interest of the workers at heart, and there’s democracy in the workplace,” Jonathan Alingu says. A membership organizer with Jobs with Justice, Alingu is passionate about recruiting black women and people of color for union jobs. “It’ll help them understand unions better while still being connected to social-movement and justice”.

The trade industry isn’t just for adults either. Jobs with Justice also pushes for high school students to go straight into apprenticeship upon graduation. “This is our goal,” Furino says. “When there are construction projects at schools, a certain amount of workers need to be women and people of color that came from that same school. This is bringing it full circle.”

Since December of 2018, Furino has had the privilege of interacting with those who’ve taken advantage of working through their trade program. “Any time I talk to a returning citizen, they’re grateful because they realize they still have value.” Jobs with Justice also takes the time to survey their workers, their satisfaction levels, what they’re paid, and how they’re trained. A common opinion shared amongst workers is that the union is like a family. That it has helped to acclimate them into an industry that is not the most welcoming or inviting. 

Luis Quintana, an organizer with the Ironworkers Union, has found much success in collaborating with Jobs with Justice. In his experience, he’s seen many re-establish themselves after hardship and unforeseen circumstances. For instance, when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September of 2017, many Puerto Ricans were relocated to Central Florida. The sudden displacement from such a devastating natural disaster caused many to be unemployed and thus, unstable. The Ironworkers Union, alongside Jobs with Justice, provided hope for the people of Puerto Rico by offering them the opportunity to be ironworkers. During that time, the Ironworkers Union needed a lot of work manning jobs. The need for ironworkers was high but the process was far from easy. After a week-long physical endurance training called “Gladiator Training”, and hands-on training specifically related to ironwork, many went from making $8-$10 an hour from their previous employment, to making $18 an hour at the entry level of ironwork. “I remember a single mother being able to finish,” Quintana said. “She ended up working on a NASA project at Cape Canaveral.”

Whether someone wants to be a construction worker, painter, electrician or something else in the realm of tradework, Jobs with Justice is offering central Floridians that opportunity. They are supportive of pushing people to dream even beyond their trade. They desire for people to advance and gain the skills and knowledge that could one day open the door to own their own business or to further their education by attaining a degree. 

The open-line of communication between unions like the Ironworkers Union and Jobs with Justice is what makes their efforts such a success. The goal is mutual. They want to give people the tools and resources to attain job security, and they are doing just that. 

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