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Against All Odds: Finding Work for LES Residents in Spite of the Obstacles

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Can’t we all just get along? David Garza, head of the Henry Street Settlement’s Workforce Development Center didn’t use those words in an appearance before a Community Board 3 committee this week. But in explaining his struggle to set up the Lower East Side Employment Network, it was clear some of the neighborhood’s non-profits have resisted the idea of teaming up to find LES residents jobs.

In addition to Henry Street, the network includes five other groups including University Settlement, the Chinese American Planning Council, Chinatown Manpower and Good Old Lower East Side. The coalition has been operating without a formal budget up until now – in the near future they’ll be looking for funding to hire a small staff. The idea is simple – coordinating the efforts of multiple workforce centers – to train and place more workers in decent jobs.

Garza’s message was overwhelmingly positive. He emphasized that, together the organizations, have served thousands of people and established good relationships with businesses. But he said a bureaucracy that forces the non-profits to compete for funding, job seekers and job opportunities has had a chilling effect on collaboration.

In response to a question, Garza indicated the network does not have a working relationship with the LES Business Improvement District. Susan Stetzer, CB3’s district manager suggested the BID has not historically been interested in working with the community board.

Garza said, in the last several years, the new hotels in the neighborhood have been a major source of jobs for local residents. He said some hotel companies are more willing to make local hires than others. Garza urged the board to help fight for stipulations in contracts signed with developers requiring them to look at employing in the neighborhood.

 

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