With the boom in natural gas mining, and with Black unemployment nearly twice that of Whites, African American Workers Union founder Calvin Clinton saw an opportunity to provide training for unemployed Blacks and low-income residents to take advantage of jobs drilling at the Marcellus Shale.
Since his union has previously provided training for 13 other construction-related skilled trades, under the auspices of the US Department of Labor, he thought getting the certification for two new training programs would be routine. It has not, and Clinton believes the Pennsylvania Bureau of Labor and Industry’s State Apprenticeship and Training Council is actively quashing his application.
“Everything goes through the state. In order to qualify for the federal grants to provide this training for those who can’t afford a for-profit trade school course, we need the state certification,” said Clinton. “And, right now, they are not going to do that and we don’t have an adequate answer as to why.”
Clinton told the New Pittsburgh Courier the only minor difficulty he had with the federal labor department arose because he had to change the name of his training program to comply with the guidelines set by the Employment and Training Administration which is tasked with designing and delivering high-quality training and employment programs.
“That was easy, it was a quick fix,” he said. “So we just needed the state to sign off and certify us so we could begin. That’s not happening.”
Clinton plans to use safety and industry-specific training standards to ready up to 10 students at a time to work on shale gas rigs. The bulk of the training is classroom based. Clinton also planned to arrange job placement meetings for his graduates with various drilling entities.
But none of that would happen without state approval. Clinton heard nothing for six months until the new director of the apprenticeship council David Heller asked where he would be conducting the training. Clinton told him he had arranged to do it at The Pittsburgh Project on the North Side.
The day before a scheduled council meeting, Clinton said two inspectors from Hellers office went to the Pittsburgh Project and questioned staff in a very indirect manner.
“They were very vague about what they wanted. I don’t remember them even mentioning the African American Workers Union,” said Interim Executive Director Karen Dreyer. “They were only here for about five minutes and maybe asked two questions about space. It was very odd.”
The next day, the council denied Clinton’s application.
“They were looking to find anything negative they could, but they didn’t,” said Clinton. “We believe this was an attempt to undermine our efforts, and they were looking for an excuse to do so.”
Calls to Heller and the Apprentice and Training Council for comment were not returned by New Pittsburgh Courier deadline.
Clinton said his only other option is to contact Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training Jane Oates again at the US Department of Labor and explain that they’ve hit a road block and see if she can expedite the matter.
“We are undaunted,” said Clinton. “Our union is resolved to get these certifications.”