It is the early 2000s, and as the sun rises over Southern California, most people are still fast asleep. Kristian Mendoza, however, is up and getting ready for work. He doesn’t have to be in until eight, but his commute can sometimes take up to an hour-and-a-half each way. This job pays so little that he can barely afford the gas to commute to it, let alone provide the time and care he would like for his two young children.
He would have liked to work a higher paying job closer to home, but for the first decade since returning to civilian life from the Marines in 2000, he had a hard time finding work. “I chose the military path because I wanted to have something to fall back on when I got out, but that wasn’t the case at all,” he said. “It took me six months to find my first job after getting out.”
Kristian's story is not uncommon. Many veterans struggle to find good-paying jobs after their service. Kristian was hoping to find a manufacturing job, but the industry that fueled the middle class for so many decades is a shell of what it once was, leaving people like him with few options.
However, in Los Angeles, that’s starting to change. For the past five years, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) has been using an innovative approach to its purchase of bus and rail vehicles called the U.S. Employment Plan. The plan aims to create good, well-paying jobs through recruitment and training for people who have been historically excluded from the manufacturing industry.
LA Metro worked with Jobs to Move America; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 11; and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to pilot the program in 2012. Kinkisharyo International, the company that was awarded the bid, committed to creating 235 U.S. jobs based on the employment plan guidelines. To date, the company has delivered 50 railcars, 38 of which are already in operation on the LA Metro's light rail lines.
The agreement includes a community-labor partnership, as well as a commitment to explore additional skills training and assistance for disadvantaged U.S. workers. To date, the company has exceeded its commitments, employing around 400 workers, most of whom are people of color.
Today, Kristian is one of the 400, working for Kinkisharyo as a Tool Crib Coordinator. “I keep inventory and distribute all consumables and personal protective equipment for the company. I also purchase those items and make sure all damaged tools are sent out for repair or warranty,” he said.
Kristian is a powerful example of how our economy can improve when we invest in U.S. workers. After struggling for years, he has been able to move out of his family’s home and into a place close to the factory in the Antelope Valley. He finally gets to use the skills he learned in the Marines so many years ago and continues to grow professionally through training offered to employees.
The U.S. Employment Plan is one of many things that Jobs to Move America is pushing for to make our transit dollars go the distance — to build cleaner public transit systems, create and retain good U.S. jobs, and generate opportunities for unemployed Americans like veterans, single parents, and residents of low-income neighborhoods.
More recently, LA Metro included a local version of the U.S. Employment Plan in its recent RFP for up to 1,200 buses, potentially worth $805 million. If adopted, the plan has the potential to create or retain thousands of jobs for U.S. workers up and down the supply chain.
“My son Alex is now 18 and my daughter Sophie is 16. This job has allowed me to take care of them,” Kristian said, “The Jobs to Move America program helped me do that.”
Governmental and transit agencies, manufacturers, community, and labor groups need to work together so that more people like Kristian can support their families and live happy, healthy lives.
Alaa Milbes is senior communications specialist for Jobs to Move America, a national coalition uniting more than 30 community, labor, faith, civil rights, philanthropic, academic, and environmental groups.
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