Report: How Trades Unions Can Help the Formerly Incarcerated Find Good Jobs

Successful union-led programs inside and outside prisons are helping the formerly incarcerated gain meaningful employment; such programs to be highlighted as award-winning artist John Legend and AFL-CIO leaders visit the Washington Corrections Center for Women this week.

New York, NY—With hundreds of thousands of men and women being released from U.S. prisons and jails each year, there is an acute need for high-quality job training and employers willing to give these workers a chance.  A new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and In the Public Interest (ITPI) highlights successful training programs, designed and operated through labor management partnerships around the country, that are giving returning men and women the tools they need to find and succeed in employment.

“Union-designed apprenticeship programs, particularly in the construction and building trades, are demonstrating that when formerly incarcerated men and women have the opportunity for training and meaningful credentials, they absolutely can be successful and productive members of the labor force, which is good for employers, and can earn a decent wage in a quality job, which is good for their families and their communities,” said Christine Owens, executive director of NELP.

Access to gainful employment is a critical component of successful reentry and can limit recidivism, but all too often, the formerly incarcerated are released without the skills needed in growing industries or the professional networks to access those jobs.  As the report notes, American trades unions, such as those that comprise the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), have well-developed expertise in designing training and apprenticeship programs and the relationships with employers to ensure successful completion.  Several programs already operate throughout the country that actively reach out to the formerly incarcerated and those with criminal records to help them learn valued skills and find gainful employment in unionized jobs.

On Thursday, April 7th, 10-time Grammy Award winner, Oscar winner, and Golden Globe winner John Legend will join labor leaders from the AFL-CIO and other unions on a visit to the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington, where they will highlight the tragedy of high incarceration rates and observe the Trades Related Apprenticeship (TRAC) program, developed by the Carpenters, Laborers, Ironworkers, and Lathers, Acoustical and Drywall Systems trade unions, which trains women inmates in building and construction work to prepare them for careers upon release.

In anticipation of the visit, John Legend released the following statement:  “At #FREEAMERICA we are working to reduce incarceration rates across the country, and we applaud programs like those detailed in the NELP report that ensure people who are incarcerated have access to quality training on the inside and, on the outside, they have access to jobs that help them rejoin their families and communities.”

John Legend’s #FREEAMERICA campaign and the AFL-CIO are partnering to shed light on the impact of mass incarceration on inmates and employees alike in America’s criminal justice system.  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated, “Workers and prisoners alike are victims of our unjust prison industrial complex system.  At its very core, the system of mass incarceration has dehumanized all of us.  What America needs today is a mass employment system, not a mass incarceration system.”

Read the full report:

Reentry and Employment for the Formerly Incarcerated and the Role of American Trades Unions

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