Riders of the Riverfront Park SkyRide gondolas or the Looff Carrousel this summer might recognize the smile of 44-year-old Jason Tremblay.
“Meeting the people, socializing with them,” Tremblay said, was his favorite part of the job. “Saying hello, saying enjoy the ride.”
The part-time worker joined the city in June after years working maintenance at Fairchild Air Force Base and collecting carts at Walmart. Under a new initiative announced Friday, City Hall hopes to employ more workers with a disability, like Tremblay, by relaxing job testing requirements and working closely with employment coaches to match potential employees with open opportunities.
“It’s important to expand our city’s workforce in ways that will allow us to be more representative of our community,” said Mayor David Condon, announcing the program at a news conference Friday morning at City Hall. “We want to provide opportunities for meaningful work for citizens throughout our community, of all abilities.”
Condon said he hoped the example set by the city would inspire other major employers in town to follow suit. An analysis of census data by the Brookings Institution, published last July, found that Spokane was among the cities with the lowest employment rates for people with disabilities in the country, standing at just 43 percent for disabled adults with an associate’s degree or better.
City staff have identified jobs that would be appropriate for workers experiencing a disability, Condon said, and both civil service and human resources staff will accept one application from a single potential employee that can be shared across departments. Applicants will require proof of their disability as well as a job-readiness certificate, said Amber Richards, who serves as chief examiner for the city’s Civil Service Commission.
That panel is responsible for reviewing city hires to ensure quality candidates are selected and that the process is free of political influence. It does so for about 90 percent of the city’s hires, which is part of the reason why it took several years to put the hiring program in place, Condon said.
“We needed to work through the issues and rules of civil service,” Condon said.
King County instituted a similar program in 1990. Workers are assisted through the initial hiring process by city employees, one each from civil service and the city’s human resources department, and also work with outside job coaches to meet the requirements of their position.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers lauded the city’s efforts to employ those with disabilities, saying it meshed well with federal legislation she pushed for that allows qualifying workers to place their earnings into savings accounts that don’t count against the benefits they receive from the federal government. Many potential employees with disabilities choose not to work because it could limit the public assistance they receive, she said.
“When we’re opening up the opportunity for an individual to work, we’re giving them the opportunity to have a life that will give them more purpose, and make them a part of the community,” the congresswoman said.
McMorris Rodgers has pushed for the savings accounts in Congress for the past five years, spurred by the experiences of her son, Cole, who was born with Down syndrome. Now 11, he dreams of being “a football player, or a fireman,” the congresswoman said.
The state’s system for administering the savings accounts launched in July, and in the fall state officials reported more than 100 applicants had signed up and set aside more than $200,000 in savings.
The city is scheduled to hold a public workshop for those interested in applying for the program on Jan. 30 at City Hall, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Staff can be contacted by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more details.
Tremblay said he’s satisfied with the part-time job he has with the city, helping parkgoers pack into gondolas for rides over the Spokane Falls. But he also knows, with the new program, he could apply for more if he wanted to.
“I’m just enjoying it all, it’s pretty fun,” he said. “It’s really exciting to be around other people, and make it fun.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.