I’ve been learning about the might of language. And I appreciate my brother from another mother for showing me a higher path to patience…another plane for inclusion, acceptance. The Federal Stimulus Plan and the 2007 Green Jobs Act make these extraordinary times. Last Saturday, I wrote an email to Minnesota State Representative Jeremy Kalin, 17B (North Branch) after the feedback I received about my blog, where I criticized his legislative work. I never felt that he is for Jim Crow-like, exclusion of one laborer over another. While in DC I felt his excitement for the Good Jobs/Green Jobs Conference. We heard the same unity speeches from union, environment and government representative alike. When I hugged Rep. Kalin – I meant it sincerely. And still do.
Last week I read Minnesota HF 680 sponsored by Rep. Kalin. I focused on the language throughout, but what I was looking for, what’s been driving my activism these past two years in green jobs, was addressed in sections 6 and 7 of the bill. I was looking for the express inclusion of non-union workers in weatherization projects of low-income housing and commercial buildings. Moreover, I was looking for policy that directed both state agencies and trade unions to include under-served, under-represented communities in the training needed for this work. What was there was awkward language embracing business as usual. It mentions the under-employed without frankly directing state agencies or trade unions toward inclusive action.
One of the biggest producers of CO2 emissions is commercial-grade buildings. There are hundreds of these buildings in need across Minnesota. They need energy audits, new windows, insulation and retrofitting. Addressing these needs would produce jobs that help our economy, help multiple industries and help our environment in one fell swoop. Teens in our nation’s capitol are performing energy audits side-by-side with industry experts. DC youth are learning the energy efficiency trade on the job. They are gaining perspectives on the state of their neighborhoods and needs of the businesses that serve them. And the program has been very successful.
In New Jersey, a state-mandated trades program focused on getting women, people of color into construction. And they worked with public and private, for-profit and non-profits to raise the skill sets of men and women of color so they could test into union apprenticeship programs. They had to address the obvious barriers first before their students could become competitive. The students needed money. For example, you have to be a licensed driver to apply for construction jobs and many of their students had lost their DLs because they couldn’t pay the fines leveraged against them. They weren’t criminals, they were just broke. They helped their students build their proficiency with numbers. They taught to the test and most of their graduates experience great success.
California’s City of Oakland took their ENRON /PG &E lawsuit settlement and used it to fund a pre-pre-apprenticeship trades program that would teach the under-served, under-employed on retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency and building/installing solar-panels. This program also addresses why people aren’t bootstrap-ready, why they couldn’t do it themselves and get jobs on shovel-ready projects. They teach life skills from relationships and personal health to behavioral choices. It’s run with love and would make an army drill sergeant smile. It’s a tough, pre-dawn to sundown boot camp with a 91% success rate. Their students qualify for union apprenticeships by scoring higher than 2/3rds of union-sponsored applicants.
That’s what I wanted to see. And it wasn’t there. Historically, minority-owned businesses in this state and throughout the country have had it tough when trying to work on state-sponsored projects. And construction, heavy industry unions have a poor history locally when including persons of color. Plus, education in Minnesota needs help. Last year I read a history book’s galley recounting the experiences of African Americans in Minnesota. The book relates the struggles of African American laborers. If it hadn’t been for enterprising individuals who brought in unions from out of state, and then signed up people of color, fair and equitable treatment of their workers might have been lost. These unions were invited to join the once exclusively white unions only after they demonstrated successful outcomes on their own.
The lack of success with 1/2 of the students of color in our public schools overlaps the seriousness of need for direct, explicit inclusion for minority workers to have successful outcomes. We cannot expect the 70% of students who fail at science and mathematics to be able to compete for trade union opportunities. They need more. More help, more training, new programs are necessary to help them make the grade and end this spiraling failure rate. This impacts a person’s ability to move, to change, to progress into thriving, self-sufficient adults. Because minority studentshave been dropping by the wayside for the past decade, we are not only talking about youth. We are talking about re-engineering adults who can’t make the grade. And when skilled laborers are squeezed, seniority and exclusion reigns. When we address these problems, our communities can thrive along with them.
What I’ve discovered is that that policy isn’t written in stone; it’s malleable and has a process for revision and correction. It was brought to my attention almost instantly that there are educators, advocates and activists at the table and that they are being heard. These are people from the minority community who, like me, have vested interest in seeing this legislation informed by their knowledge-base and improved for the inclusion of all. I also learned that my gut response hurt their efforts. And that’s the last thing I wished to do.
And here’s what I wrote:
Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009 Re: An apology / olive branch/ admittance…
Dear Rep. Kalin: Please accept my sincerest apology. Although active in the DFL for a while now – I’m pretty unschooled on the legislative process. When I read your bill – my gut response wasn’t weighed against its flexibility or its dynamic process. I will be writing a blog in response to my previous one and hope to have it published soon. Thank you for starting this process…and for the work you do for the people of Minnesota. Sincerely, Rachel Dykoski Minneapolis, MN PS – Happy Valentines Day….
I maintain, however, that vigilance is crucial in making sure that our highest expectations are realized. There are so many agencies, entities involved. A lot of goals and responsibilities are waiting for the light of day and hang in the balance.
What is hard to admit is that I didn’t know how flexible the legislation can be. And that people were hard at work to help sculpt the legislation so it was more fair, more inclusive, more holistic in its use of stimulus funding. Knowing this aim is underway, I feel more sure and more secure about this state’s ability to do the right thing. I had to shirk my knee-jerk assumptions. I have to work on my trust of others. The great state of Minnesota’s ghosts will not have a foothold in this new day of our 21st century. Farmers, laborers, union and non-union, all persons have a place at the table, a voice at the capitol and an interest in seeing this legislation executed successfully. I hope to apologize in person at tonight’s HIRE (Health, Infrastructure and Renewable Energy) coalition – town hall meeting held at Minneapolis American Indian Center, 1530 East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, MN. Wish me luck!