At the healthy young age of 26, Daryl Cahill should be in the prime of his life. Ideally, the Jersey City native should be devoting 40 hours a week to some vocational pursuit that will become his life’s work.
Instead, Cahill, who lives with an aunt near Pavonia Avenue in the Journal Square neighborhood, spends most of his time these days “just hangin’,” he said. This “hangin’ ” takes place largely outside of various corner stores and fast food restaurants in the area, but includes little employment.
“I’ve tried looking for jobs, but there ain’t nothin’ out here,” said Cahill, who insists he has applied for sales associate positions at retail stores and cashier work at mom-and-pop stores. He periodically works as a day laborer, doing odd jobs like cleaning and painting at a few rental apartments in the area.
‘I do wonder if the wool is being put over people’s eyes.” – Viola Richardson
“I was raised by my uncle,” Cahill said. “He’s dead now, but when he was alive, he was an electrician. It was hard work, but he made good money, real good money.” But without his uncle’s guidance, Cahill said he’s a bit unsure how to begin.
“My aunt comes to these City Council meetings and she keeps talking about all these construction [projects] they got goin’ on,” he said. “Where are these jobs? Where do you find them? When I try to get hired, I just get turned away. But I know there’s things I could do.”
There, in a nutshell is the frustration of many low-skilled unemployed residents in Jersey City. While development in the city has slowed from its breakneck pace of a few years ago, it has not stopped entirely. And yet, many people complain that jobs in construction and other development-related fields don’t reach residents like Cahill who need them.
Despite the economic and housing slump, construction in Jersey City has not come to a complete halt. Several construction projects are either underway or have recently completed.
This week, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Mary T. Norton Manor, a 24-unit affordable condo development on Duncan Avenue. Last month, St. Peter’s College broke ground on a new 90,000-square-foot, six-story student life center between Bergen Avenue and Kennedy Blvd.
Other construction-related projects are in the pipeline. Secaucus-based Goya Foods, Inc. plans to build a new 615,000-square-foot facility in Jersey City that will creat 150 construction jobs, according to the company. In January 2012, the second phase of a massive land remediation effort will begin at 900 Garfield Ave. And next fall, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency will begin construction on the Mary O’Malley Homes on North Street.
Some residents say these projects have not translated into increased work opportunities for members of the community.
“You see things being built in Jersey City all the time,” said resident R.J. Harper. “But nobody from my neighborhood is working at these [sites]. I never see anybody at these construction sites who looks like me.”
Speaking specifically about the 900 Garfield Ave. project, where PPG Industries is removing chromium-contaminated soil and ground water, Markis Abraham, a member of the Chromium Cleanup Partnership’s Citizens Advisory Board, isn’t optimistic.
Under a consent agreement with the city, PPG Industries has agreed to ensure that at least 20 percent of man hours at the remediation site will be given to Jersey City residents and 20 percent of contracts be given to local businesses.
“There’s very little information about what jobs are available,” Abraham said. “Potentially this could be a very large economic opportunity for the residents and businesses of Jersey City. But there are practical issues that prevent it from being as large as it could be. We’ve been told, ‘Most of the jobs are unionized.’ That’s fine. But what jobs are unionized, and which ones are not?”
According to Brian McGuire, environmental projects manager for PPG, about “15 and 20 individuals were employed on the Garfield Avenue cleanup site from July 2010 to June 2011, excluding consulting services and over-the-road truck drivers. We expect a similar level of employment when cleanup work resumes in January . All construction positions in the past were held by union members, and we believe that will be the case beginning in January, too.”
At a recent community meeting McGuire said the company is actually exceeding its man hour and contract requirements at the cleanup site. But PPG doesn’t directly hire the people who work at the site. Instead, it hires subcontractors and they, in turn, hire the workers. PPG spokesman Jeff Worden said last week said it’s up to each subcontractor to determine how many – and what types – of workers it needs. This, according to Worden, makes it difficult to determine what jobs, if any, will be available for unskilled and low-skilled workers.
Abraham, who works as an attorney, doesn’t accept that explanation.
“These contractors have to submit bids,” he said. “And I know from my experience with bids that they have to give a very detailed breakdown of the staff needed for the contract. Some of this information has to be available.”
‘Where are the jobs?’
Development projects require city approval before they can break ground. Some of the most controversial ones often win approval because the developer or a company promises to bring jobs – both short-term construction jobs and permanent jobs – to Jersey City. (See “Controversial Goya deal passed,” on www.HudsonReporter.com.)
“I’ve been asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ for I don’t know how long. A lot of these jobs don’t exist for our people,” said City Councilwoman Viola Richardson. On Tuesday, Richardson was elected to an at-large seat on the council. But for the past decade she has served as the City Council representative for Ward F, one of the city’s poorest communities and where jobs are needed most.
Like Cahill and Abraham, she said that she has been frustrated that the city’s development boom hasn’t translated into jobs for her constituents.
“I do wonder if the wool is being put over people’s eyes,” she said. “The city needs to do a better job of holding [developers’] feet to the fire to ensure that the promised jobs come and our people benefit.”
According to city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill, the city’s Division of Economic Opportunity monitors whether developers comply with the promises they made.
Apprenticeship path closed
Most unions offer apprenticeship programs that are accredited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.
Predictably, such opportunities are scarce, according Rob Lewandowski, spokesperson for the Laborers’ International of North America (Eastern Region). The union’s apprenticeship program is currently closed to new applicants.
“Traditionally, we were the union for the so-called ‘unskilled’ worker. This is where a lot of low-skilled or unskilled workers started out,” said Lewandowski.
In other words, this is where someone like Daryl Cahill traditionally would have started a career in construction. At present, this door is closed.
“Most of the construction trades have 20 to 40 percent unemployment. Our unemployment is four times the national average,” said Lewandowski.
Currently, the laborers’ union has a waiting list of approved apprentices that has 196 names on it. Last year, only 80 people made it off the waiting list and were able to begin formal apprenticeship training.
“With work being so bad, it would almost be irresponsible to bring in more apprentices because there’s nowhere for them to work,” Lewandowski added.
He said that many apprentices lose interest in construction because it takes so long for them to get called up for work assignments.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.