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NWI Federation presses RDA for hiring equity

Updated: November 2, 2011 5:23AM



MERRILLVILLE — The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority agreed to work with a local faith-based organization Tuesday to ensure that members of “disparaged” communities get jobs on the Gary/Chicago International Airport’s $153 million runway expansion project.

Claudia Rivera, executive director of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations, gave the RDA board a position paper she said could be the framework for a community benefits agreement.

After the meeting, group members huddled with RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna to arrange dates to meet. The RDA has committed $30 million to the runway project, with the rest coming from federal funding.

The Federation mobilized after the RDA adopted a policy in April saying it wouldn’t adhere to local hiring preferences ordinances, such as the one in Gary, which require a percentage of workers come from the community where the project is based.

Gardner, of Gary’s Trinity Baptist Church, said such a policy seems inconsistent with the RDA’s mission to stimulate the local economy.

“We believe what’s happening with the RDA is the essence of hope for Northwest Indiana but we can’t be left outside the fence,” said Gardner. “We implore you to take the next step so the most disparaged in Northwest Indiana can get a ticket on that train.”

Hanna said the RDA has a broader two-county hiring preference policy that simply encourages grantees to hire local residents. He said individual community policies would restrict worker mobility. Foremost in his mind, Hanna said, is the pledge to meet the Federal Aviation Authority’s 2013 deadline to complete the runway.

The Federation wants 30 percent of the 1,000 jobs on the airport runway project filled by local workers in communities with high unemployment.

Its benefits agreement proposal lays out a job training agreement with the RDA in those communities. It seeks job readiness, orientation, job training, pre-union apprenticeship and “seamless transition” to full employment in construction trades and non-trades labor.

The Federation modeled its proposal after a 1998 Los Angeles initiative for a $2.2 billion transportation improvement project.

The RDA has already revised its Buy Indiana and Buy Northwest Indiana compliance policy to ensure participation from minority and women businesses. It also encourages grantees to hire and use Lake and Porter county companies and residents on RDA projects.



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