NAACP At-Large City Council Forum – October 25

As previously noted, there were two forums tonight; Tracy is covering the School Committee forum (and is formatting her notes much more nicely than I have ever formatted mine!!).

(I will hold on typing the introductions; you know who all these candidates are!)

At this point it’s 6:23pm so we’re running quite late.  The candidates had just wanted to move on to questions but the organizers insisted on the introductions.

Candidates in attendance: Bergman, King, Lukes, Petty, Straight, Toomey (so, no Rosen)

About 30-40 people in attendance (feels like more than last week)

Emphasis of tonight is on Labor.

Q1 from SURJ: What are the most pressing racial justice issues in Worcester community?  What to do?

Lukes: during tenure as past mayor, first outsider/woman/minority superintendent in history.  As city councilor, only one to vote for Oscar Rodriguez. Racial justice – people in power need to reflect the community.  When we talk about racial justice, talking about jobs and money – that determines value in society.  No ability to generate income, no justice.  We need to see that whatever jobs are available need to take affirmative action goals into account and reflect community.

Petty: study on incarceration in gateway cities.  Being strong on crime, three strikes you’re out doesn’t work.  Mary Keefe is working on this in the statehouse.  Putting drug users to jail for long time no use.  Jobs frontier in city – making sure people get opportunities, esp youth.  Hiring inner-city youth over the summer.  Dividing people is just wrong.  Continues to bring people together.

Straight: (1) City Council can set inclusive tone.  (2) Economic disparities.  Increase econ dev in areas surrounding downtown.  (3) Affirmative action isn’t enough, doesn’t keep pace with population increases.

Toomey: has been advocate for educational opportunities.  Ensure public schools are there, doing best thing for students.  Every child should be given appropriate opportunity, communication is an issue, job training.

Bergman: (1) schools.  Although City Councilors have little roles in schools, do have a role in school budget.  Schools in certain districts don’t get representation. As City Council, can diminish racial divide by making sure that schools are funded equally. (2) CORI Reform.  Some people get advantages because they have had records sealed.  Should be automatically done regardless of their ability to pay for a lawyer.

King: Criminal justice reform, socioeconomic disparities, high recidivism rate.  As long as we have political will to support federal/state initiatives, we can address this head-on.  We as Council should support this on the Council floor so that Beacon Hill knows where we stand as a city.  Need for livable wage.

Q2, from LWV: when we talk about economic opportunity, who is included in this effort: business, non-profit, education, youth, immigrants, (a few other things I missed)?

Petty: community effort in this city.  Jobs Opportunity Fund.  CDL license availability.  Youth Opportunities Corp.  Immigrants represent 30% of small businesses in the city.  Good-paying jobs for long-term period.  Education is important to jobs.  Technical high school, for people who don’t want to g to college and want a good-paying job.

Straight: revamping Small Business Exemption, right now not adopted by City Council.  Would give small businesses more of an advantage.  Youth jobs great program.

Toomey: one group not mentioned: single parents, very often working in service industry jobs.  We need to help them grow in their jobs.  Those folks need to be at the table.  Talking with social, religious, ethnic orgs.  37% of businesses in Worcester are minority-owned.  Recently Worcester #2 in country for small business development and support.  That says that we are supportive.  So take that, Boston!

Bergman: two groups that need to be protected: (1) immigrants, we could do more (example of Buffalo and Hartford – mentors to immigrant business owners/college business students can help); (2) high school students could get better sense of that by mentoring by adults, esp retirees.  Afterschool programs for those interested in medicine, law, etc.

King: families.  Livable wage would impact 40-47% of workforce in city.  If we continue to increase minimum wage, higher percentage of single-parent, female homes.  Men are out of the home (due to prison, etc.) – this impacts the family.  Starts with City Hall.  We can see that diversity on committees.  Councilors need to advocate more outside City Hall.

Lukes: She, Bergman, King, can also speak to the immigrant experience.  When immigrants come here, may not be highest trained folks.  She started working in family restaurant at 8 years old.  Whole culture of Worcester is changing, can’t expect people to start businesses on their own [without assistance].  Even to be auto mechanic, need computer program expertise.  Tech School in Worcester prepares you for college; do we have something that prepares for the trades?  Local union internship programs meeting some of that gap.

Q3, from Local 107 Carpenter’s Union: 145 Front Street – wage theft.  Workers cheated out of pay, taxpayers cheated out of payroll taxes, development projects subsidized by taxpayers should not go to cheaters.  Would you support ordinance to create conditions/qualifications on general contractors/subcontractors on these issues?  (long question; didn’t get it all)

Straight: Yes, if you are doing an honest day’s work, should get an honest day’s wage.  If anyone is getting TIF, should have good record of taking care of workers.  Anytime this sort of thing has happened, should be reported to AG, union.

Toomey: supports the Local 107’s efforts at 145 Front Street.  Going back as far as her School Committee days, they awarded contract to company that had been convicted of not withholding wages, taxes.  How can they get contract?  Would like to see language of ordinance, but would support it.

Bergman: agrees with it, has talked about this before.  When you apply for special permit or variance, need to certify that you don’t owe city any money.  You should have to certify that you don’t owe employees any money.  Language would have to be pretty specific, proof (not just allegation) of wage theft.

King: wage theft is an epidemic across the country.  Was proud to stand with a number of trade unions downtown outside a development that was engaged in wage theft.  About everyday working people.  No longer should our working class, laborers, get short end of the stick.  He is an elected union official and will continue to fight for working families.

Lukes: “I don’t want a reporter to find a hot mic situation”.  Developers who come before us with special situation, like TIF.  When we deal with these companies, are they dealing fairly with employees?  Have requirements about local workers, racial/minority classifications.  Clearly we don’t hire these folks again for another job.  Not our business to prosecute them.  There are enough protections that would solve that problem.  The City Council has said that we don’t support illegal activities.

Petty: Yes.  Person not paying the employee correctly, if you have undocumented, they have no leverage.  More teeth the better in this.  Every dollar counts.  If there is a history, like Beacon Street project, you can track it.  Put teeth into ordinance.  A lot of this should be done through AG’s office.

Q4, from Worcester Community Labor Coalition: CM Augustus chose not to include local residents [in some recent contract].  Residency requirements for future contracts?

Toomey: she has already done that, Mayor Petty has as well.  If you work for the city, high-paying executives should live in the city.  Support local hiring initiatives.  Workforce housing.  Can we provide incentives versus hitting people over the head?  Rent to own with equity on buying a house?  [Nicole aside: I honestly don’t understand this; isn’t that what a mortgage is?]

Bergman: Yes, with caveats.  This would be violating some union agreements.  Can only approach with new contracts going forward.  More receptive if you find some way to make an incentive.  Builds neighborhood stability.  There used to be federal programs to encourage firefighters/police to live in the city, but those don’t exist anymore.  Will need to make our own program.

King: daughter just graduated with MSW in July.  Classmates wanted to know where the jobs are.  We want families to be close.  Have to make sure young have an opportunity.  Should give preference to those born/raised or currently residing in the city.  Make folks more civically involved.  A lot of kids want to stay in Worcester but have to have opportunities.

Lukes: she was firmly supportive of residency requirement when she joined the Council.  But learned a couple of things: (1) unions don’t want these and we will need to pay dearly for it; (2) there are people who lie about their address – move out after six months.  Difficult to enforce (and have legal standing to enforce).

Petty: would support, makes a difference for people to live and work in Worcester.  How we get there is a little difficult.  Almost every WPS position is exempt by statute except for superintendent.  Police/fire is similar.  But we could discuss…

Straight: we’ve heard a lot of things.  Seems to like incentives [sorry, Nicole is developing forum fatigue].

Q5 (the last question, Konnie announces), from Worcester Youth Center.  What are your views on how to reduce poverty?  How to alleviate persistent poverty among certain groups?

Bergman: there are things we can do, but no magic bullet.  Emphasizes education, even before people have children.  Immigrant communities – better mentoring.  Majority on Council voted for $15/hr.  Compared to other communities, we are relatively affordable for rent and buying homes.

King: raise minimum wage, create jobs, support pay equity, criminal justice reform.  Need to get men back in the home and in the workforce.  He knows that if it’s the political will of the Council and administration, it gets done.  First quote from Dr. King of the night.  We must use the AG’s office for wage theft.  Need to educate the workforce.

Lukes: Senator Daniel Moynihan’s publication on the War against Poverty: every single black male child deserved a black male parent.  Education and hard work are the other answer.  When we talk about poverty, challenging a lot of results of destroyed family structure.  Voluntary lack of education, drug use, etc.  We have superintendent that understands what kids need to be the point of clean clothes.  Starts with family structure.

Petty: job opportunities.  TIF policy that suggests they hire city workers, can’t enforce it, but if you educate employers/developers who are willing to listen, goes a long way.  Education is important.

[I feel like we’ve had a whole candidate forum without hearing about the foundation budget, so we’ve missed Bingo tonight…that was my free space!]

Straight: attacking from every angle we have control over.  $15/minimum wage.  Working over 40 hours a week at second job “a different kind of incarceration”.  Increase elderly exemption for real estate.  Financial training programs about basic financial literacy.  Affordable housing.

Toomey: Hope.  Letting people know that there is hope to get out of poverty, talking to people who have succeeded themselves.  It can be done.  We need to let people know that with hard work, dedication, educational opportunities, they can overcome poverty.  Friendly House works with WPI to talk to young people about jobs in STEM fields.  Adult education.  Need to commit to support that.  Will help people get out of poverty.

(no closing statements, I guess?)

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