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2017: Bracing for Change In a New Era

By Rev. Stephen E. Tucker

Uneasiness emerges with incoming administration, Coalition continues to vie for face time with D.C. mayor

The November 2016 presidential election sent a very clear message: A new era of change is coming.

While it’s still too early to predict the magnitude of these changes, the new president has sounded the alarm that every corner of the country should brace itself for a hit to American capitalism. Just weeks before the inauguration of the next president of the United States, the jobs issue had already taken center stage.

Before taking office, Donald Trump’s intervention initially touted saving more than 1,000 union jobs at Carrier’s Indiana facility from moving to Mexico. That number swiftly came under scrutiny as reports emerged of a number closer to 700. A union leader who took Trump to task on the facts faced a tweet attack by the then-incoming president. In the wake of this development, questions still remain over the economic and employee impact of the Carrier deal.

But it’s not only big companies involved. In our “neck of the woods,” the JOBS Coalition, nonprofits, faith-based and community organizations, and District government agencies in the workforce development world also need to get ready for change. Why? For one, the District of Columbia passed sweeping legislation over the summer that would increase the minimum wage for workers to $15 by 2020. In the face of such progress, however, there is cause for concern: Trump has nominated Andrew Puzder – a fast-food executive who has opposed increasing minimum wage and expanding overtime pay for workers – for Secretary of Labor, putting the “Fight for $15” in jeopardy.

This raises the question, “What will be the incoming administration’s position on union and non-union workers and jobs, given Trump’s wooing of union workers on the campaign trail and chastisement of union officials in Indiana?”

There are also other disconcerting cabinet picks, particularly the announcement of Dr. Benjamin Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. We know that housing is a key component of successful reentry for ex-offenders. And there are already plenty of barriers in place for this population ahead of the transition to this new administration. Across the D.C.-area, those returning home after incarceration are most likely to be people of color. They are most likely to face homelessness and struggle with finding affordable housing. Given some of the campaign rhetoric towards diverse populations and the uncertainty as to how Carson will address subsidized housing, we are uneasy about this appointment.

On January 14, the Rev. Al Sharpton led a “We Shall Not Be Moved” march and rally for jobs, justice and fair housing in the District. These are the issues that have consistently been top priorities for us.

In 2016, the JOBS Coalition remained firm in its support for young students to shape their future through the Academy of Construction and Design at IDEA Public Charter School. The Coalition played a key role in reaching out to churches, pastors and neighborhood residents to gain support for the school and the students who completed the “microhouse” project, now for sale.

We also continued support for ex-offender reentry programs, important to improving employability and strengthening families after release. Unfortunately, one of the most prominent supporters of this returning citizen outreach, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), lost his grandson last year to the heavy violence in Chicago. Our prayers go out to him and his family.

Furthermore, apprenticeships will remain a priority issue in the coming year as we build on the accomplishments of the Academy of Construction and Design, and the efforts of the District’s Department of Employment Services, to provide – and hopefully expand – skilled jobs training. is type of outreach can be critical in helping to uplift young black men who have dropped out of high school.

The opening of the MGM National Harbor resort and casino in Prince George’s County is being celebrated as an economic boom for the region, bringing jobs, income and an economic boost to county residents. While we support the hiring of the unemployed, it’s important to acknowledge the other side of the coin. We know that gambling can be a detrimental and addictive enticement for people – especially returning citizens and young adults – who can ill afford to gamble away family resources.

Also in this vein of workforce development, we are keeping a pulse on the future contract to build a new FBI headquarters. Right now, we don’t know how much this initiative will become mired in politics (As The Washington Post recently reported on Dec. 2, two top bidders for the contract have “deep ties” to Trump). But we do know that hundreds of jobs will be at the forefront of this massive project. The question remains whether ex-offenders will be given an opportunity to qualify for these jobs.

As we look to 2017, one of our action goals is to get a seat at the table with the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser. We have yet to do that. She is the first mayor that we have not been granted access to sit down with and discuss workforce development, career and technical education, and returning citizens – key issues for the JOBS Coalition and the District of Columbia. As underscored in a recent article of The Washington Post titled, “Is the D.C. Mayor Losing Control of Her City?” there is an increasingly tense relationship between Bowser and some members of the D.C. Council. The mayor could use our support on issues with which we agree. And a meeting would reveal those areas of agreement. I hope Ms. Bowser aspires for the end of her term to be fruitful and productive, and one embracing a collaborative spirit.