CTA's Rail Car Servicer Apprentice Program for ex-offenders was targeted by union for discontinuation
December 12, 2013 | By Michael L. Pfleger
The Chicago Transit Authority's Rail Car Servicer Apprentice Program — a vital and unique initiative that helps nonviolent ex-offenders, people who've overcome drug addiction, victims of domestic violence and other hard-to-place individuals re-enter the workforce — is unfortunately set to be killed off by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly.
It is particularly disturbing that this incredible resource faces its demise on Dec. 31 after having provided job opportunities for more than 800 people — most of them African-American — since its creation in November 2007.
From their first day as CTA employees, these apprentices have completed job readiness training provided by referring social service agencies. As apprentices, their jobs are to help clean CTA rail cars. They are ATU Local 308 dues-paying members. For that reason, the program cannot exist unless Mr. Kelly agrees.
For reasons he refuses to explain to CTA officials, the media or the public, Mr. Kelly has decided to push 65 apprentices back into unemployment. In short, Mr. Kelly is discriminating against his own members, insisting that they be laid off, treating them as second-class citizens in his own union. He takes their dues money, but he won't represent them.
At a time when the country is still recovering from the lingering effects of a deep recession, Mr. Kelly's inexplicable actions threaten to shove these hard-working employees back into one of society's worst revolving doors. We've seen far too often ex-offenders get out of jail, committed to getting a real job, even at minimum wage, only to have employers tell them that because of their criminal record or lack of work history, they cannot be hired.
Faced with little or no prospects to earn a legitimate living, those people find themselves back in their old environment, surrounded by drugs, crime and, later, jail.
I know, because I've worked with many people who are trying to turn around their lives. I've met them at The Faith Community of St. Sabina, and through my ministry and community activism. I know the challenges they face. Mr. Kelly either doesn't understand or doesn't care, and both of those possibilities are disturbing.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking ... is freedom." Of course, those who've been incarcerated want one thing more than anything else: to be free — and to never, ever go back.
These apprentices have paid their debts to society and are looking to move past their mistakes. Unfortunately Mr. Kelly seems dead set on making one of his own.
The Rev. Michael L. Pfleger is senior pastor of The Faith Community of St. Sabina.