Chicago Transportation Plans Aim To Put Disadvantaged Back To Work

A rapid transit streetcar in Philidelphia. (Photo/Alex via Flickr)

A rapid transit streetcar in Philadelphia. (Photo/Alex via Flickr)

 

This is the first in a two-part series exploring the Jobs to Move America plan and its impact on Chicago’s unemployed.

By Trisha Marczak

When the Chicago Transit Authority opened up its bid for $2 billion for the manufacturing of more than 850 rapid transit cars for its subway and urban train system, it also requested bidders detail how they would create quality jobs for Chicago’s growing unemployed.

The altered bid process will still run on the same financial principles as it has in the past, awarding the lowest bidder with the job. Yet the request for companies also to incorporate a U.S. jobs plan in the process is putting the spotlight on those interested in benefitting from the CTA’s multi-billion dollar project.

In all, 20,000 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are expected to be created through the CTA commitment, if all goes according to plan.

It’s a step in the right direction, according to the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), which is promoting its Jobs to Move America program throughout the nation. The organization is using a model that succeeded in its home city to promote the plan, with the ultimate goal of reinvigorating America’s manufacturing industry.

“It’s just a first step,” Jobs to Move America communications specialist Rachele Huennekens told Mint Press News, going on to say that Chicago’s model could be used as a catalyst for other city transportation projects in the future. “We would also like to see it adopted in a way that makes it part of the contract when it’s awarded.”

 

Putting Chicago’s unemployed back to work

The move to alter the bid process is intended to provide opportunities to disadvantaged Americans and veterans, as manufacturing jobs that could be sent out of the country would be promised to Chicago’s unemployed. The city’s unemployment rate stands at 10.3 percent.

In the broader state of Illinois, 9.2 percent of the population is unemployed. Among the African American community, that number is hovering at around 17 percent.

This is where community involvement comes in. As part of an effort to promote homegrown job growth and transparency within the CTA and partnering businesses, Jobs to Move America is working closely with community faith, advocacy and environmental organizations, all whom have a stake in the game.

Blacks in Green (BIG) is one organization that’s putting its weight behind a plan that could directly help put people in their community back to work, all the while promoting a green transportation system within the community.

“The city of Chicago is demonstrating leadership to rebuild American manufacturing, and leveraging our buying power deliberately for community benefit,” Naomi Davis, fellow at Green for All and founder of BIG, said in a press release. “Community activists and city officials must now work closely together to ensure that CTA’s intentions result in real jobs and opportunities for Chicagoans. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and collaborate.”

Ultimately, Chicago taxpayers are paying for the $2 billion proposed transit project. Using those funds to create jobs that will put the city’s unemployed back to work is what community organizers are after.

“We want to be able to leverage existing funding existing taxpayer dollars that are used for the purchase of transit rail cars — it’s the spending of taxpayer funds, and we want to maximize the value of that,” Huennekens told Mint Press News.

 

Promoting “good” manufacturing careers

Labor organizations are throwing their support behind the move, as it not only calls for U.S. jobs, but quality U.S. jobs. The Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents 300 labor organizations, is among the supporters of the transportation jobs plan.

“We applaud Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and the CTA for taking a lead role in bolstering Chicago’s economy and creating jobs,” Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said in a press release. “We urge manufacturers to work in partnership with the CTA to create quality manufacturing jobs here in Chicago and around the U.S.”

The company that is awarded the bid will provide a detailed plan regarding specifics of job creation, types of positions and the quality of those positions for America’s unemployed.

The decision over what constitutes a “quality” job is one that will be negotiated between the CTA and bidding companies — yet unlike in the past, the goal through the Jobs to Move America initiative is to create a window of transparency, allowing local union organizations to weigh in on the discussion.

“With so many Americans struggling to find work, it is critical that public agencies use our taxpayer dollars to invigorate our economy,” Madeline Janis, national policy director of LAANE said in a press release. “If manufacturers step up, this could be a big opportunity to create jobs for low-income communities and communities of color, while upgrading Chicago’s transit networks with new, efficient, American-made rail cars.”

The manufacturing industry in Illinois has seen a 20 percent hit in the last 10 years, according to LAANE, representing a huge hole in an industrial sector that once provided the state’s workers with thousands of stable careers.

In the CTA’s last round of transportation infrastructure improvements, it awarded its contract to Canadian company Bombardier Transportation, based in Montreal. The company was the successful bidder in 2009, providing the city’s taxpayer-funded transportation system with roughly 700 train and subway cars.

While Bombardier and the CTA did not disclose the number of jobs that were created through that business agreement, an independent analysis conducted by LAANE indicated roughly 7,000 U.S. manufacturing positions alone could have been created, had CTA agreed to work with a company dedicated to U.S. job creation.

 

How do you make it work?

At this stage, it’s all about the power of communication.

Companies aiming to do business with the taxpayer-funded CTA still have the option of submitting their bids without the completion of a proposal detailing where — and how — they’ll promote U.S. job growth.

But if that’s the case, they’ll also be criticized by community organizations, partnered with their national counterparts, to highlight the organization as one not willing to use U.S. taxpayers dollars to benefit American workers.

Alternately, for companies riding the “Made in America” wave, it could be a boost to business.

The idea behind LAANE’s Jobs to Move America plan came from a philosophy that aimed to work backward. After a bid is awarded and a company gets to work, the idea of asking for U.S. jobs isn’t enforceable, and the level of transparency to see where those jobs are being created is nonexistent.

“We know that these major parts are made in Mexico, China and Japan for the transit manufacturing industry — were losing that potential,” Huennekens said. “That’s how we came to this point, if we don’t ask the question now, it’s going to be out of sight, out of mind. It’s going to be an afterthought.”

In 2011, LAANE successfully promoted a similar program, working with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Authority to create a Jobs to Move America campaign that contributed to 200 U.S. jobs, split between California and Minnesota. In that instance, the $305 million project was awarded to Canada-based New Flyer Industries, yet it operated inside the scope of the agreement, keeping the jobs within the nation’s borders.

Companies bidding for the $2 billion Chicago transit project will have until Dec. 18 to submit their applications, along with their plans on using the project to promote U.S. manufacturing jobs.

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