Chadron community leaders are trying to rally support for the Pine Ridge Job Corps Center, one of 16 operated by the U-S Forest Service slated to be transferred to the Dept of Labor, where it would be operated by a contractor.
While the center would not be closed, the current staff members are federal employees of the Forest Service and their positions are scheduled to end with the end of the agency’s fiscal year on Sept 30.
Based on the history of Job Corps centers with private contractors, the replacement jobs would pay much less – some possibly without benefits – and the extensive community service work done by the students would end.
Pine Ridge Job Corps Center students have already put in nearly 15,000 hours of volunteer work so far this year on community service projects involving carpentry, maintenance, painting, and welding. Students also worked more than 32,000 hours over the past 2 years on forest fires, either as fire fighters or fire camp support.
Chadron City Council member and public school teacher Cheryl Welch used last night’s council meeting to call attention to the situation. Welch urged residents to contact Nebraska’s congressional delegation and ask them to work to stop the planned changes from taking effect.
Northwest Nebraska Development Corporation executive director Deb Cottier has sent a personal letter to local media making a similar plea.
Cottier writes that “it looks as though a lot of decisions have been made without any public input, dropping this latest bombshell on the employees just before Memorial Day weekend (and) without so much as a personal conversation with the directors to soften the blow.”
Cottier calls the Pine Ridge center “a special learning place that needs to be maintained,” and that the planned transfers affects the entire country, not just this region.
She also points out that under federal law, the Job Corp staffers can’t even speak publicly on the proposal or fight for their jobs – making it vital that others do that for them by calling members of Congress and telling them the decision needs to be re-visited.
LETTER BY DEB COTTIER
June 1, 2019
In the late 60’s there were many programs initiated at the federal level to assist in what was referred to as the war on poverty. As you might suspect, some programs were more successful than others.
One, in particular that has seen great success in our area is the Job Corps education system. Pine Ridge Job Corps, specifically. The mission was, and is today, to assist young people who do not have the opportunity, skills, or background to successfully navigate traditional schooling.
These young people may be from a different culture, a different country or just come from such a dysfunctional background they don’t ’fit in’, so they quit school, fall through the cracks, get into trouble and become a huge drain on lots of resources where ever they live.
If they are fortunate enough to find Job Corps, they can get an education, socialization, cultural awareness, learn skills and become better citizens (i.e. they get a job and pay taxes). Is there a cost to this program? Of course there is. But the investment is a bargain in the larger scheme of federal funding when compared to the benefits.
First, the young person gets another chance at a better life – and I don’t know how you put a price on that. Second, business gets a skilled, trained potential employee when they graduate. Third, the communities in which Job Corps Centers are located receive tremendous benefit from Job Corps labor on government owned property and are allowed to utilize the corps men and women as interns while they are here.
Fourth, the employees of the Center are members of the community spending their salaries (in Chadron about $4.1 million annually) on houses, taxes, retail purchases, cars, services, food and a whole lot more. They are part of our community and send their kids to our schools, attend our churches and volunteer in our clubs and organizations. And finally, businesses in our community have a great customer in Pine Ridge Job Corps (PRJC) Center.
Now, the government has decided to shut down a third of those centers outright, and propose the remaining centers are transferred to a different agency, which will ‘contract out’ the services currently being delivered by professionals at PRJC. This is all in the name of financial savings, to be accomplished in 4 months.
We have seen this effort before, and our community has rallied to help save PRJC. It may be time to do that again. However, it looks as though a lot of decisions have been made without any public input, dropping this latest bombshell on the employees just before Memorial Day weekend, without so much as a personal conversation with the directors to soften the blow. It was handled very poorly, as far as I can see, and these long time government servants deserve better.
Having served on both the Community Relations and Industry Relations committees, having toured and hosted hundreds of people on tours at that Center; having had the pleasure of speaking at their graduation numerous times, I am speaking from my heart and my own observation – this is a special learning place that needs to be maintained.
Whatever we need to do to convince those who have some decision making authority, we will try to do. It is something that affects the entire country, not just our region. We have to speak up on behalf of the PRJC employees, as their hands are tied. They cannot fight for their own jobs. I intend to do what I can. I hope others will join me. Call your Congressman or US Senator and tell them this decision needs to be re-visited.
Also expressing concern over the announced changes, Pine Ridge Job Corps Center Community Relations Committee Chairman Clayton Riesen told KNEB News there has not been a lot of communications up front on this, which he says seems a bit odd.
Riesen issued the following letter to the editor regarding the potential closures and transfers.
I’m writing to share the thoughts of many in the Chadron area regarding the recent proposed changes in the management of the federal Job Corps program. We have been made aware, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Labor have agreed to close 9 Job Corps Centers and turn over the remaining USDA-run centers to Department of Labor by September 30,2019. That means more than 1000 employees across the nation will lose their jobs. And in doing so, the US Forest Service will lose their support of fire teams and camp crews currently supplied by Job Corps Centers.
On May 24,2019, while at a training session, the Job Corps Center directors were told of the 9 center closures and 16 center transfers to Department of Labor. Within 30 minutes, their employees were told via TELEPHONE CONFERENCE CALL the same news. DOL and USDA spokespeople were unable to provide any details as to how this would be accomplished. These are not numbers to be happily added to the ‘money saving column. These are people, with families who deserve to be treated better.
In western Nebraska at the Pine Ridge Job Corps Center (PRJC), 56 employees will be RIF’ed. We have been told that the services will be privately contracted out and the programs will continue as previously offered. We don’t believe that to be true. Contract-run Centers will not work with US Forest Service to supply crews for fire-fighting services. In the past 3 years, pmc has contributed over 20,000 hours assisting forest fire fighters. Contract Centers in other locations have not been known to provide the 1000’s of hours and hands-on training on projects in the surrounding communities. In 2019 alone PRJC accomplished more than 30 projects in the region, accumulating 14,779 hours. Contract Centers have been viewed as profit driven where the bottom line is the number 1 consideration in all they do.
There is no assurance that any of the current employees at pmc wilt remain in the area. PRIC salaries alone are $4.1 million annually. If the former employees leave our community, they will likely take spouses or significant others with them, taking labor force and more salaries with them. But equally important to our community is the loss of those many families from our schools, churches, community organizations, little league teams and all the other things that make them part of our community fabric.
There is not a business in this community that will not feet the loss of that many people leaving our community. We have no idea how many positions and at what wage will be hired to replace them. This wholesale elimination of jobs, vendor purchases and community participation will have a huge impact on our community.
Projects in our community, and our neighboring communities will have less chance to be accomplished without Job Corps assistance. Things like painting, clean-up, tree & stump removal, putting up American flags, installing bike racks, pouring new sidewalks & concrete pads at public facilities, constructing bleachers, masonry work of all kinds, and setting up for events such as Fur Trade Days, the Fair, the quilt show, and hundreds more things too numerous to list.
The only opportunity for comment the public wilt have, as published in the federal register, is whether or not we agree with the decision to close 9 centers permanently. We aren’t being allowed to weigh in on the decision to transfer management from USDA to DOL. We have not been asked about the value these Centers have provided to the students, to the communities and the employees this past 55 years.
Please join with us and contact your Congressional delegation at the email addresses below, or give them a call. Ask them to reconsider USDA and Labofs decision to eliminate centers and place some under private contract. They need to hear from us how devastating this will be to our community.
Senator Deb Fischer fischer@senate.Gov 202-224-6551
Senator Ben Sasse sassesenate. Gov 202-224-4224
Congressman Adrian Smith adriansmith@house.Gov 202-225-6435
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry fortenberry@house. Gov 202-225-4806
Congressman Don Bacon bacon@house.Gov 202-225-4155
Pine Ridge Job Corps Center
Community Relations Committee
In response to an inquiry regarding the closings and transfers, Nebraska 3rd District Congressman Adrian Smith issued the following statement to KNEB News on Tuesday.
“I am a strong supporter of vocational and technical education and training. Employers need workers as much as these young people need economic opportunity. In an effort to improve efficiencies, the Administration has decided to phase out federal operation of certain Job Corps centers, including Pine Ridge in Chadron. As Pine Ridge transitions to contract operations, I will be monitoring the situation to ensure meaningful training and job-skills development for our young people continues.” Congressman Adrian Smith
And response to the same inquiry, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer issued the following statement to KNEB News Wednesday morning.
“My office has been in touch with the Director of Pine Ridge and I understand the concerns the Chadron community has in regards to the termination of the Jobs Corp program. My staff continues to be engaged on this issue and I am closely monitoring the impact this transition to new management will have in the area. I understand the importance of this center and I will continue to work at the federal level to spur economic development and support job training,” Senator Deb Fischer