IE Black Workers Center Training for Good Paying Jobs
By Dianne Anderson
Seeing how Blacks suffered the worst of all racial groups during the pandemic only made Dr. Nosakhere Thomas more determined to get the community on the right career track into good-paying union jobs.
Through the Inland Empire Black Workers Center, lower-skilled workers are moving into the High Roads Training Partnerships through a state-backed initiative to develop resilient workers for living wages, good benefits and a good work environment.
While students do not receive direct payments, they will get many free services that quickly add up as they make their way through the pre-apprenticeship program.
“It pays mileage to and from class, books, uniforms, boots, equipment, certification and anything related to the course, It helps with childcare, with retroactive issues, tickets, or outstanding school bills, we try to address those things,” said Dr. Thomas, Ph.D., MBA, associate director of the Inland Empire Black Worker Center.
The program also gives out $500 scholarships to students upon graduation, and plenty of follow-up in the year after students get into work or an apprenticeship.
Water D1, D2 and D3 certifications, as well as other certifications are available to get students workforce ready.
He said IEBWC teaches soft skills, resilience, emotional intelligence, and handling microaggression. They learn resume-building and interviewing skills. The program,
located at 468 W. 5th Street in San Bernardino, also covers OSHA 10 certification, leadership development and water math preparation.
Especially now in the longest and driest drought on record, he said water is the future of jobs.
Through his program, students attend SBVC for a course in water technology and the process for how wastewater is reclaimed. Recently, they visited a local water plant.
“Within two hours, the water was transformed brown water from the toilet to reusable water that can water plants at parks,” he said.
Last December, the IE Black Workers Center started with funding from the Department of education, the California Workforce Development Board, in partnership with the Jewish Vocational Service. He said the course also covers adjacent positions within water agencies, from accounting to human resources to mechanical to electrical to HVAC.
Several agencies partner with IEBWC, and he said the agencies are committed to finding apprenticeship placements, and giving his students priority when they apply for jobs.
Equally important, the students learn the origins of historic Black union organizing, including greats like A. Philip Randolph and lately, Chris Smalls, who was fired from Amazon for organizing against unsafe COVID working conditions. Recently, Smalls successfully led the first unionization of Amazon in Staten Island, New York. Smalls is now president of the Amazon Labor Union.
Workplace rights are a focus for IEBWC. He said unions are still needed because industries too often make and break promises.
“Some say they have 50 slots, but don’t come through. Sometimes they don’t hire Black or Latinx that they say they will hire. So we have to show up and activate for advocacy to ensure that we get what we need, what our workers need,” he said.
Thomas, with an extensive local background in community organizing, business development and consulting, said he personally has not been in a union, but he understands the fight for rights.
IEBWC, which started in March, will have its first graduation in June, and another cohort starting up in December. Organizing fuels the organization, and he said Black workers are welcome to come in, and talk out their issues and concerns and experiences on the job.
The effort is also connected to Southern California Regional Hub for Black Organizing, of which he sits on the board.
There are new campaigns are in store for policy change.
In the works, he said they are looking to address Executive Order 11246, and are meeting at state level offices around access to fair federal funding opportunities. That order came down in 1965 by President Johnson to address federally assisted construction contracts, specifically to equitably tap contracts.
“We all collaborate on the issues and various campaigns going on. Next, we’re looking at reparations,” he said. “Every month, we’re doing educational series where we teach them community engagement, what to say at the podium at board meetings and at council meetings.”
IEBWC is one of 16 nonprofit groups funded in the first round of $740,000 in grants awarded earlier this year through a partnership by the IE Black Equity Fund, IE Funders Alliance and Inland Empire Community Foundation.
Thomas said that COPE (Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement) is their fiscal sponsor, and the recent round of funding is important to moving local goals for fair access for Black workers.
Last month, he said their first workshop bringing all the Black nonprofits together was inspiring.
“That’s the thing I like about BEI, they are really interested in building Black nonprofit and community-based organizations. We connect with not only the leaders there but also members of the consortium,” he said. “Startups need this incubator support to get on our feet, we’re most appreciative.”
For more information, see https://www.iebwc.org/