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Sun., May 19, 2013

City projects help residents

Spokane Alliance has been working for the common good for more than a decade. We are a nonpartisan, multi-issue organization comprised of churches, education associations, students, nonprofits and unions. We start with the dreams and desires of our membership to develop a stronger Spokane by organizing ourselves and working with leaders in the city.

We organize with people like Emmanuel “Manny” Flores. When Manny returned home after serving in the U.S. Air Force, he was unable to find a quality job that provided a living wage or health care. Like many of our families in Spokane, Manny was just barely getting by. His wife suffered a life-threatening illness. They were lucky; she lived. But the following medical costs brought struggle. Fortunately, Manny’s father told him about Helmets to Hardhats, a veteran retraining program.

Manny became an apprentice for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. For the first time since returning home, Manny was able to provide for his family while working a single job. He received a living wage, bills were paid on time and the family had health care. Spokane Alliance members united around a vision for every family to work for: a living wage, family health care and a better quality of life.

Herb Bonallo, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, identified an opportunity for the potential expansion of the Convention Center and Arena. What if the expansion wasn’t just a project that benefited the commercial interests in town? What if it also benefited people such as Manny by leveraging government resources? Could the project be used to create local quality jobs with full-family health care?

The Spokane Alliance imagined what we could accomplish with the Public Facilities District with 400 additional family-wage construction jobs in our city.

Our membership organized and developed a strategy with lead organizer Carol Krawczyk. A team of leaders from within Spokane Alliance met with the PFD chief executive officer, Kevin Twohig. He agreed that if Spokane approved Measure 1, he and his board would meet again with Spokane Alliance.

The measure passed, and we began a series of conversations with the PFD to find ways to create our vision. The PFD agreed to:

• Pay a living wage.

• Provide full-family health care.

• Hire a local contractor with a good track record on past work.

• Use local materials when possible.

• Have 15 percent of the total hours for the project be designated for apprenticeships.

• Support Helmets to Hardhats.

The PFD board chose the same general contractor, Garco, that we thought would be best to complete the work at the Spokane Arena and Convention Center. Garco agreed they would provide the type of jobs with benefits to the workers and community we envisioned. Today, we celebrate and thank the PFD for true collaboration that is making our city a stronger and more just place.

This collaboration is the most recent example of the Spokane Alliance’s efforts to leverage public resources to improve Spokane’s quality of life. Our accomplishments include:

• Negotiating with the Spokane Transit Authority in our 2008 Spokane Transit Campaign to shape the initiative and increase voter turnout by 18 percent to win a 65 percent yes vote after 6,000 individual contacts.

• Partnering with Spokane Public Schools to develop asbestos removal standards in 2009 for a $344 million school bond.

• Passing legislation (Senate Bill 5649) in 2010 to provide $14.5 million for neighborhood energy efficiency retrofits by SustainableWorks.

• Collaborating, in 2011 and 2012, to pass a $1.1 billion state jobs bill creating over 18,000 jobs in Washington. We ensured $54 million in projects critical to Spokane were included, such as the second half of funding for the biomedical school at the Washington State University Riverpoint Campus and $15 million for the Community Energy Efficiency Program.

The Spokane Alliance is proud of our collaborative efforts with the PFD to create quality jobs. These negotiations were led by citizens who decided to not just sit back and criticize, but instead took responsibility to listen, imagine and create a concrete vision that is then acted upon. There are good people working in both the private, nonprofit and government sectors in this city. When given the opportunity to do what is best for the whole, they step up. Thanks to this type of partnering, now Manny is looking forward to the opportunity to stay in Spokane with a decent job and good benefits while he helps build Spokane’s future.

Pastor Andy CastroLang of Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ is the president of the Spokane Alliance. Melissa Carpenter is a member of Independent Grassroots and Spokane Alliance vice president. 

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