PATERSON, NJ - If Paterson’s renaissance is truly on the horizon, in order for Mayor Andre Sayegh’s vision of new construction throughout the city’s six wards to become a reality, investors and developers are going to need workers, and a lot of them.
Indeed, growing the city’s workforce is a critical component of Sayegh’s mission because, as he has said countless times, “employment is empowerment.”
Sayegh used this phrase again on Saturday as more than 75 residents filed into the Hamilton Club on Church Street and took the first step in joining one of several building trades unions that were on hand as a part of Project IMPACT.
Following a model that have proven successful in Elizabeth, Jersey City, and Newark, Project IMPACT was introduced in Paterson in November as a way, Sayegh said at the time, to get the city’s “economic engine running again."
In addition to helping prospective union members prepare for entrance tests, Project IMPACT will also help them pay for drug tests, develop interviewing skills, and learn about workplace responsibility. It also seeks to diversify work crews, an effort that was on full display Saturday with attendees of every skin color, and, as was pointed out several times, a record number of women.
Among the women was Amanda Earl, who, despite the biting wind chill, walked from Eva’s Village Halfway House with her young son for an opportunity to fill out an application and take the initial basic skills math test.
“I am determined to get a job, to support my family, to lay a foundation,” Earl said suggesting that she’s well able to take on the demands of working on a construction site. With no specific trade in mind Earl offered that she was going to keep her options open, and, adding optimistically, “keep hope alive.”
Stationed at the front door as prospective apprentices came through the door was Patrick Kelleher, Business Agent for UA 24, the union that represents workers in the plumbing industry throughout 11 New Jersey counties. “They are going to have to put the time in,” he said nodding to about 15 applicants that sat in one of the overflow rooms, “we are going to give them the tools,” to build a career.
With a solid career in a labor union, Kelleher added, members have the opportunity to buy a house, have health benefits, earn a pension, and, as he declared at the program’s kick-off “live the American dream.”
Sitting in the main room donning a bright green t-shirt emblazoned with the UA logo was Errol Wilson, a lifelong Paterson resident. Now a 5th year apprentice, Wilson could also attest to the career, and life, changing benefits of being a union member. Saying that union members often command higher salaries than workers in other fields, Wilson offered that going through the training and apprenticeship program has the added benefit of allowing members to embark on a career without the strain of college debt.
Listing off potential projects such as the redevelopment of the Paterson Armory site and Riverside Terrace, Wilson shared his belief that as union members once “Paterson gets going,” local residents will have the first opportunities to get the jobs that come with the construction.
“You came out a on cold morning to make a change, for yourselves,” City Council President Martiza Davila told one of the groups of applicants. “We are here to help you,” she added before encouraging each of them to leave and tell someone else about the opportunities that exist.
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