City Councilmember Desley Brooks speaks Tuesday in front of City Hall about her proposal for city funding of pre-apprenticeship job training programs. She asked city officials to “listen to a community that is tired of waiting. (They) are no longer going to allow you to simply do nothing.” Photo by Ken Epstein.
City Councilmember Desley Brooks kicked off a campaign this week to push the City Council to pass a resolution to provide funding for the first time to support the nonprofits organizations in Oakland that provide pre-apprenticeship training so African Americans, Latinos and other people of color in Oakland can enter careers in the construction trades.
Operating for years without city financial support, the programs provide access to well-paying jobs with benefits and pensions to low-income young people, the formerly incarcerated and women who have long faced barriers to taking advantage of these opportunities.
“For too long, we’ve asked people of color to wait,” said Brooks, speaking at a press conference and rally Tuesday afternoon on City Hall steps before Brooks’ proposed resolution – co-sponsored by Councilmember Noel Gallo – was supposed to be discussed at the Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee.
Speaking to about 150 pre-apprenticeship trainees and other community members, she said the city is going to spend $120 million in the next year on bond measure projects.
“We want to be sure you’re included in the $120 million in the work that is done,” said Brooks.
“When we push, we get what we need for our community…We not asking for anything, we are demanding that this council does what’s right,” said Brooks, who has been working for five months with the City Attorney, the administration and City Council members to move the proposal forward.
“We talk about displacement and gentrification, but we come up with no solutions that address the issue. We talk about equity, but equity only happens when it’s convenient,” she said.
“If they don’t have the political will to do what is right, we should take to the streets.”
Joining Brooks at the rally were community members and trainees from pre-apprenticeship programs, including a large group from the highly respected Cypress Mandela Training Center, which has a track record of working in Oakland for 26 years
Among those who showed up to support the resolution were participants at the Men of Valor Academy, which has been helping the formerly incarcerated for 14 years; Laborers Union Local 304, which represents workers throughout Alameda County and has offices in Oakland, Hayward and Livermore, working with others since 2007 to train future union members; and the Oakland Private Industry Council, which for years has received federal funding for to operate the Oakland Career Center, the Eastmont Career & Employment Center and the West Oakland Neighborhood Career Center.
Also represented were the Laborers Community Service and Training Foundation and Rising Sun Energy Center, which helps women, particularly formerly incarcerated women, enter the building trades.
Though the resolution had been scheduled for the CED meeting, City Attorney Barbara Parker blocked the council from discussing or voting on the issue because of an alleged technical problem with Brooks’ resolution.
Parker’s legal opinion was directed to the council and was not released to the public.
However, members of the public did have the opportunity to speak to the muted councilmembers.
“We need careers … that not only provide a decent living wage to support a family but also keep (trainees) on a positive path to life,” said Rafael Gonzalez, president of Laborers Local 304.
“I’m here to support Councilmember Brooks’ initiative. It really is a new way forward,” said Bernard Ashcraft, CEO of the Bay Area Business Roundtable, which has helped many people over the years find jobs.
Sylvester Hodges, director of training at Cypress Mandela, said providing city funding for training programs is a way to counter displacement and gentrification.
“I am concerned about the people who are leaving Oakland who should not be leaving Oakland,” he said. “We can ensure that they have jobs with good wages and benefits. We can do that here.”
Mike Hester of McGuire and Hester, a builder based in Oakland for 90 years, said training programs like Cypress Mandela and Men of Valor are part of a collective effort to make sure there are enough workers to fill the jobs.
“Industry is helping, labor is helping. It really needs the city’s support financially in a substantial way.”
Hester said he was unsure what is the best way for the city to raise the money, “but I think you need to commit to support workforce development in our community because we need the workers.”
Said Richard Harris, a client of Men of Valor Academy, “It’s really an investment in community. I feel like we’re left behind. Everything is happening, and nothing is happening for us.”
Explaining the proposed resolution, Brooks said it was patterned after the city’s “Percent for Art” ordinance that requires large real estate developments in the city include publicly accessible works of art or pay a fee to the city’s arts agency.
The proposal looks at four possible alternatives for funding the initiative, including utilizing 5 percent of the city’s Infrastructure monies; 5 percent from the parking fund; using money from the developers’ fund, which currently has $27 million in it; or requiring contractors to pay 30 cents per hour of work, similar to a program operated by the Port of Oakland.
“There is an urgency right now in our community,” said Brooks, pointing out that while the unemployment rate in the city has dropped from 19 percent overall to 4 percent, in the Latino community it’s 11 percent, and in the African American community it’s 20 percent.
Among youth, unemployment stands at 34 percent.
“Since 2012, we have failed to meet our 50 percent local hiring goals,” Brooks said. “So, we pass these things knowing that we don’t enforce them. And we don’t achieve them. But we want the community to believe otherwise.”
Opposing the proposal, several speakers said that money from the Measure KK bond should not be “diverted” to train Oakland workers for construction projects funded by the city.
Brooks criticized City Attorney Parkers for deferring the resolution rather than providing advice to expedite the process.
“The city attorney would play games with the issues that confront our communities, (failing) to provide legal advice in a timely fashion so things can actually get done,” said Brooks.
“The charter says the City Attorney’s Office is supposed to advise, not to control the council. How do we pick and choose the items that we will let go through and others that we won’t? It’s appalling.”
“There is a need for us right now to make sure that our communities, and specifically the African American communities and communities of color, have jobs in this city,” said Brooks.
The proposed resolution went to the city’s Rules Committee and Legislation Committee Thursday, where the measure was scheduled to be heard at the CED Committee on Tuesday, April 24, 1:30 p.m., at City Hall.