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, PRJC has contributed over 20,000 hours assisting forest fire fighters. Contract Centers in other location have not been known to provide the 1000’s of hours and hands-on training on projects in the surrounding communities. In 2019 along 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 one consideration in all they do.
There is no assurance that any of the current employees at PRJC will remain in the area. PRJC 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 organization, 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 feel 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 will 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.
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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 Labor’s decision to eliminate centers and place some under private contract. They need to hear form us how devastating this will be to our community.
Senator Deb Fischer firstname.lastname@example.org 202-224-6551
Senator Ben Sasse email@example.com 202-224-4224
Congressman Adrian Smith firstname.lastname@example.org 202-225-6435
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry email@example.com 202-225-4806
Congressman Don Bacon firstname.lastname@example.org 202-225-4155
Clayton Riesen, Chairman
Pine Ridge Job Corps Center
Community Relations Committee