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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Rev. Debra Conklin: Apprenticeship ordinance should win city OK

The Rev. Debra Conklin

On Labor Day, the Spokane Alliance salutes a century of progress for American workers, including the five-day workweek, collective bargaining rights and better workplace safety. But much remains to be done, especially in low-wage Spokane, to create more job opportunities for young people and veterans.

Spokane County is lagging behind in recovering the 14,200 payroll jobs it lost in the 2008 recession. Seattle and Boise already have regained their pre-recession job losses, while Spokane remains in the lower third of U.S. metro areas for job recovery.

For this reason, the Spokane Alliance, a nonpartisan organization with 20,000 members from churches, education associations, unions and nonprofits, has been working with the Spokane City Council on a set of job-building ordinances to be voted on later this year.

The ordinances would increase apprenticeship opportunities on public works projects for young people and veterans and also would allow the city, as part of the bidding process, to consider the sales tax revenue it would receive by purchasing locally – giving a leg up to Spokane businesses.

The lack of good jobs has affected my family. My daughter graduated from a local high school at 17. She began in part-time jobs at minimum wage. After five years, she realized she could not support herself in Spokane. She moved to Utah, where she quickly moved up to full time within the same chain of companies, later becoming a regional sales representative with another company. Spokane can and must do better for our young adults!

Apprenticeships are one good way to accomplish this goal, combining supervised on-the-job training and classroom instruction to learn a skilled occupation. At the end of the apprenticeship, the trainee is qualified for better-paying jobs.

Employers also would benefit. Apprenticeships reduce absenteeism and turnover, increase productivity, reduce training costs and ensure a pool of highly qualified applicants for public and private jobs.

Spokane would benefit as well. According to the Washington Workforce Training Board, every $1 invested in apprenticeships returns $23 to the community in additional tax revenue and $91 to the participants in increased lifetime earnings. Those are powerful returns.

The Spokane Alliance has supported apprenticeship agreements before. In June 2004, we forged a groundbreaking agreement with Spokane Public Schools for apprenticeship utilization in 15 percent of all hours on school district high-performance building projects.

In spring 2013, we convinced the Public Facilities District to include apprenticeships for the expansion of the Spokane Convention Center and Arena. The district agreed to choose a contractor who would provide a living wage and family health care, allocate 15 percent of project hours to apprenticeships and support Helmets to Hardhats, an apprenticeship program for returning veterans.

Kenna May, who works for the apprenticeship and journeyman training center at Spokane Community College, says her son thrived in Spokane after successfully completing an apprenticeship with 8,000 hours of job training and 1,050 hours in the classroom after high school.

“My son, who struggled academically in high school, excelled in apprenticeship. His first day on the job he received medical benefits and started a retirement plan. He bought a house in Spokane, pays taxes and spends his money locally. My husband and I couldn’t be more proud of him,” May said.

Many Spokane high school students aren’t going to go to college and they need more apprenticeships, according to Phil High-Edward, assistant principal at Shadle Park High School.

“I talked with almost 250 families this summer. They spoke of their desire for their children to exit high school with opportunities to be gainfully employed members of this community,” High-Edward said.

Some already are pushing back against the proposed ordinances, saying they are too pro-union. This is polarizing to our community. The U.S. Congress has let ideology get in the way of moving the country forward; we cannot let that happen in Spokane.

Apprenticeships aren’t “pro-union”; they are good business and a common-sense solution to help the young, address transitions in an aging workforce and assist veterans.

Let’s focus on what we can do together. We urge a “yes” vote by the City Council. Stand up for Spokane’s future and for the common good!

The Rev. Debra Conklin is the pastor of the Liberty Park United Methodist Church, St. Paul’s United Methodist, and the Oak Tree Faith Community.