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Laid-off construction workers anxiously waiting for budget deal

Laid-off construction workers anxiously waiting for budget deal
MinnPost photo by Steve Berg

Among the many waiting to hear if this is the end of the state government shutdown is a group of laid off road construction workers.

About 50 people regularly working bulldozers, backhoes, rollers and cranes planned to rally this afternoon to urge a budget resolution so they can get back to work. They are also calling for continuation of efforts to train and employ minorities, women and the poor in well-paying road construction jobs financed by government.

Like the 22,000 state employees sidelined by the state lights out, these private-sector employees too are off the job, not receiving paychecks.

Among them is Steve Carter, a 48-year-old heavy machinery operator from Fridley who’d been planning to go to the rally, but changed his mind after hearing news of Gov. Mark Dayton’s offer to GOP legislative leaders to settle the government shutdown.

“I think he’s looking at getting the state back to work,’’ says Carter, an African-American man, about the governor. “I support Dayton. I vote Democrat,’’ he continued.

Getting back to work is a must for Carter, who makes his living behind the steering wheel of one of those gargantuan roller machines that smooth and even out roadbeds.

Only last summer he finished a program that pairs on-the-job training from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 and classroom instruction from Summit Academy OIC, a non-profit school, aimed at putting more minorities and women at the controls of the heavy machinery that builds the state’s roads.

Before that Carter had been laid off from an IT position he had held for 19 years at a local bank that downsized during the recession.

He started work as an apprentice heavy-machinery operator also running front loaders and bobcats with Ames Construction in Burnsville last July through December and was called back this spring, until the government shutdown. No government inspectors available for government projects means no work, he says.

“When the government resumes business, I’m sure I’ll resume business as well,’’ he says, adding that not only is he not getting a paycheck, but he’s not clocking work hours he needs to build up to earn journeyman status and a higher wage on the job.

“It’s like a double whammy to me,’’ Carter says, explaining he thought there would be compromise long before this, which is why he has been watching his spending and dipping into savings rather than filing for unemployment insurance so far.

Now, he nets about $500 a week plus pension and medical coverage, but he’ll earn $2 more an hour when he becomes a journeyman. 

The rally at an abandoned construction site at Highway 169 and Highway 494 in Bloomington was called by the nonprofit HIRE,  whose mission is to lift people out of poverty and reduce racial disparities by giving all people access to training and jobs providing family-supporting wages. 

“We want these jobs to come back so we can get people of color and women back into these jobs,’’ explains Avi Viswanathan, a community organizer with HIRE.

The agency works a lot with government agencies, including the state Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Council and the state Department of Human Rights, to help people of color and other underrepresented populations get work in infrastructure, Viswanathan says.

“The governnment shutdown’s biggest effect on us?  The Department of Human Rights. Without them it’s like what we don’t have any teeth.’’

As for Carter, he’s ready to work. All too soon he’ll need to help his daughter pay fall tuition at the University of Minnesota where she’s studying biology.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by will lynott on 07/15/2011 - 08:50 pm.

    The 49ers are heroes in a private sector that sorely lacks them. Imagine training people and putting them to work earning a paycheck and paying taxes. Just imagine that….

    Are you listening, wingnuts?

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