Union Pathways Paving the Way for New Yorker’s Social and Economic Mobility

Feb 15, 2024   |  By Alyssa Bradley and Riley Webster

Each year, more than 500,000 individuals return to their communities from prison, seeking meaningful employment and the opportunity for economic mobility. Union-affiliated jobs represent an incredible opportunity for individuals returning home from incarceration to achieve economic mobility as the union often successfully advocates for higher wages and stronger worker protections. Local unions often offer advanced job training that’s post-secondary in nature during an apprenticeship. However, union jobs and training have not always been accessible to individuals returning home. In employment training, individuals often need first-time work experience, assistance with getting their employment documents together, or instructors who understand what it’s like to get oriented back home following prison.

In the past few years, Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) has been delivering various levels of training geared toward the skilled trades and building local unions and district councils in New York State and other jurisdictions to build strong pathways into union jobs for its participants.

We have experience working with several union partners, creating partnership structures that meet their needs. Pre-apprenticeship pathways and direct entry pathways into union-affiliated jobs or union apprenticeships have proven successful partnership approaches. The following outlines partnership examples for each - and includes links to factsheets that offer additional details on each pathway:

  • Pre-Apprenticeship Partnerships that build specific skills
    • In 2022, CEO and Pathways 2 Apprenticeship (P2A) began a partnership to facilitate pre-apprenticeship training exclusively for justice-impacted individuals. P2A assists individuals from low-income communities with admission to a Building Trades apprenticeship. CEO recruits eligible individuals who have completed its transitional job training to participate in P2A’s 5-week pre-apprenticeship. During the pre-apprenticeship, CEO provides stipends to meet a participant’s financial needs, and P2A and CEO staff work together to coach participants to successfully transition from pre-apprentices to a career or more advanced training with a local union.
  • Direct Entry into a Union-Affiliated Position
    • In 2022, CEO and the Local 210 of the New York Laborers offered a new pathway opportunity for individuals who are previously incarcerated. Individuals receive training and certifications around hazardous waste abatement, gas, water, sewer pipe repair and installation, and road, bridge, and building construction. As a result of this collaboration, CEO participants have a direct pipeline to higher-wage paying jobs with employers and benefit from union protection.

These partnerships can't happen without intention. Often, participants describe the disillusionment that comes from having to go to multiple places and organizations to get their needs met while expressing a sense that no one helps them with what’s next in their job advancement journey as their needs change.

“P2A has given me more confidence. I had just come out of prison, and it made me feel more comfortable with my communication skills, and safety and awareness on the job. I want to start my own business, and P2A is helping me with the steps that I got to go through to do that.” -Tymell, P2A Graduate

Whether participants first go through a pre-apprenticeship training program or move directly into an apprenticeship, they can count on CEO and union partners to provide the support necessary to complete their training successfully. CEO’s Policy team and unions also work together with employers and lawmakers to widen the path to meaningful employment and eliminate discriminatory barriers by navigating through policy and advocacy efforts, including:

  • Participant storytelling and centering their experience as workers
  • Inclusive hiring and policies that increase access to quality jobs
  • Reducing barriers to employment through things like removal of requirements such as G.E.D.’s or drug testing
  • Legal reform for racial justice

Currently, little workforce policy or state and federal investments incentivize these types of partnerships. By advocating for a systematized approach that offers viable pathways to quality jobs for CEO participants, CEO hopes to expand these career advancement opportunities across the county to support justice-impacted individuals’ economic and social mobility.