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CTA Apprenticeship Program that Employs Ex-Offenders Being Halted

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A popular apprenticeship program at the Chicago Transit Authority that employed ex-offenders will end this year and that has black leaders disappointed.

“There is, therefore, a straight line between gainful employment and reducing recidivism. (And) these jobs are critical to reducing violence, recidivism, and unemployment rates for hard to employ people,” said Alderman Howard Brookins (21st), who is also chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

Once the program ends Dec. 31 it means 65 ex-offenders, who are paid $9.50 an hour to clean trains and buses, will be looking for new jobs. Regular union employees, who earn between $13-$30 an hour, also will be out of a job while saving the agency an estimated $2.9 million a year, according to Robert Kelly, president of Local 308 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, who CTA officials said is the reason why the program is ending.

"This program is not a part of the collective bargaining agreement, and, insomuch, as head of the union, he has to agree to a separate agreement to keep it going," said Steve Mayberry, a spokesman for the CTA. "This does not require negotiation—only mutual assent between Kelly and the CTA."

According to Kelly, passengers will see dirtier trains and buses once the program ends since he expects cleaning to only take place once a day instead of three.

“This could become a serious health matter for the public,’’ Kelly said.

However, CTA spokesman Brian Steele, said all current daytime crews would instead be assigned to work overnight hours to replace the apprentices, who work exclusively at night, and that trains and buses would maintain a high level of cleanliness.

Regardless of the reason why the program is ending Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) said it is till upsetting.

“This is a matter of justice and equity. We support this program and strongly encourage ATU Local 308 to end its opposition to it,” added Brookins.

Other community stakeholders, such as Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, also support keeping the program active.

“We believe that the CTA apprenticeship program for former offenders is a very important job opportunity vehicle and recognize that this program has been an economic and employment success for the participants and the CTA,” Zopp said. “This results in diminished hope and puts them at a greater risk of becoming a repeat offender and returning to prison.”

And Brookins added that he fears that the ex-offenders in the program would have a hard time finding new employment.

“African Americans are disproportionately represented in Illinois’ prison population. More often than not, these ex-offenders return to their home communities after serving their sentences in prison,” said Brookins. “They return to communities that have higher than average rates of unemployment and underemployment caused by a chronic shortage of living wage jobs.”

While Illinois and Chicago reported slight declines in unemployment for the month of October, the last month data was available; Brookins and Zopp said unemployment in black communities remained steady around 20 percent, compared to a state unemployment rate of 8.9 percent and a U.S. rate of 7.3 percent.

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