Nations first Green Jobs Corps poised for launch

OAKLAND, Calif. — With City Council approval of $250,000 in seed money expected this week, Oakland is poised to launch the nation’s first Green Jobs Corps program to train young people with limited job prospects for good jobs in growing “green” industries.

The program, initiated by the Oakland Apollo Alliance, would provide “life skills,” job readiness skills, and literacy and vocational training to young adults with barriers to employment, including lack of job skills and education, language barriers or a history with the criminal justice system. It would also provide them with wraparound services such as help with child care and transportation.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13 percent of the city’s children under 18, and 10 percent of the overall population, live in poverty.

Participants would be trained for such “green-collar” jobs as installing solar panels, constructing energy-efficient buildings or retrofitting older ones with energy-saving features. At the same time, the Apollo Alliance would work to build links between jobs training programs and “green” employers.

The seed money would come from lawsuit settlement money the city received after the state of California sued energy firms for their role in the corporate-created “energy crisis” that hit the state six years ago. Funds from the settlement must be spent on energy efficiency projects.

The program is backed by Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums and several City Council members, as well as the Alameda County Central Labor Council and many environmental and community organizations. The Oakland Apollo Alliance, co-chaired by Van Jones, president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Victor Uno, business manager, IBEW Local 595, is a coalition of labor unions, environmental and community organizations and green businesses.

“We are members of the Apollo Alliance, and we are very excited by the work the Ella Baker Center is doing with this program,” Sharon Cornu, executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County CLC, told the World. “We look forward to helping in any way that’s needed.”

The Green Jobs Corps, expected to launch early next year, aims to involve an initial contingent of 40 young adults ages 18-35 in a three-month training program involving both classroom and hands-on work, the latter for pay. Included would be a course on how to get into union apprenticeship programs.

The program is to be based at Peralta Community Colleges, the area’s community college system, and some parts of the program will be for credit. Trainees will then be placed in six-month paid internships with area green employers. Support services will continue during the internships and for a year after trainees graduate from the program. Graduates will be helped to find quality jobs in the area.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the first steps are being taken by the Port of Oakland, environmentalists, union and business representatives, and West Oakland community organizations to develop a far-reaching Maritime Air Quality Improvement Program (MAQIP) along the lines of the plan announced earlier this year by the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach.

Port workers, people who live around the port, and environmentalists have long complained of the harmful effects of diesel particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emitted by trucks and ships. With diesel exhaust concentrations five times higher than elsewhere in the city, many people living near the port suffer asthma and bronchitis, and the incidence of cancer is high.

Under a mandate from the California Air Resources Board, all California ports must come up with plans to cut emissions, MAQIP co-chair Margaret Gordon said in a telephone interview. “This is the first time in history that the port has undertaken such a thing,” said Gordon, a longtime West Oakland community activist and co-chair of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. MAQIP’s other co-chairs are Omar Benjamin, executive director of the Port of Oakland, and Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

A task force of over 30 representatives of community and environmental organizations, elected officials, unions, and shipping and trucking companies held its first meeting June 11. It is expected that the plan will be completed early next year.

mbechtel @pww.org