Employment and Training Administration
Washington, D. C. 20210






May 26, 1994





for Regional Management
SUBJECT : Information of Immediate Importance from Secretary Reich's Low Wage Worker Advocates' Conference

  1. Purpose. To share concerns raised during an April 1994 Low Wage Worker Advocates' Conference and to emphasize the need to continue this dialogue at the State and local levels.

  2. Background. On April 18 and 19, 1994, Secretary Reich held a Low Wage Worker Advocates' Conference in Washington D.C. to assure advocate groups that the Department of Labor (DOL) is interested in serving and protecting the most vulnerable populations. The goal of the Conference was to meet with advocates for workers who are traditionally underrepresented to: (1) hear their expectations of DOL programs, (2) exchange information, (3) stress that the Department wants to work with them, and (4) encourage them to establish contacts with DOL's Regional Offices for further exchanges.

    Department of Labor Agencies represented in the Conference included the Employment Standards Administration (Wage and Hour and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs), the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, the Veterans' Employment and Training Service, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as the Employment and Training Administration (ETA). A number of individuals representing groups and organizations that serve as advocates for low wage workers were in attendance.

  3. Low Wage Worker Advocate Concerns. During an issue-oriented session on employment and training, representatives from low wage worker advocate organizations raised several important issues and concerns:

    Populations among the hardest to serve need improved access to the delivery system (through flexible literacy and English language requirements, provision of bilingual front line workers, distribution of multi-language printed information, and greater inclusion in funding decisions).

    One advocate reported that some Private Industry Councils (PICs) have a policy of not serving anyone who cannot prove mastery of sixth grade level math and English literacy skills. A director for a Chinese workers' center was informed that budget concerns mean that the hardest to serve cannot be helped. An issue was the availability of job training in other languages and of bilingual front line workers. Other advocates questioned why the Department is the only agency not to mandate language access through the translation and distribution of information and materials in other languages.

    Community groups are not being included in the job training plan process.

    Community-based organizations (CBOs) represented at the Conference stated that they feel systematically excluded from the job training plan process. They cited: (1) the lack of access to informational documents, (2) the lack of PIC responsiveness to inquiries, (3) the lack of public hearings and other opportunities for public participation, and (4) the lack of time allotted for comments.

    Necessary supportive services are not being provided.

    The program coordinator for the Vietnamese Fishermen's Association and for training projects for low income women pointed to the lack of supportive services. She cited the immediate need for funding such items as required physicals, tools, work uniforms, and life skills training when they are prerequisites to jobs. Others suggested that increased supportive services should be mandated rather than limited.

    Community group proposals for funding to provide services to the neediest need to be given greater consideration.

    Advocates cited experiences leading to their conviction that the selection process is a closed one in which certain providers are regularly selected and most community organizations are routinely denied funding. Advocates asked for new and creative ways to ensure that funding reaches CBOs which can provide appropriate services to targeted groups.

    Greater coordination needs to be mandated.

    Opportunities for connecting job creation projects with job training are missed despite models at the State level, according to low wage worker advocates. They also observed that providers tend to operate in a vacuum and to advertise programs individually, in a fragmented fashion, rather than working to coordinate and centralize their programs and outreach strategies.

    State monitoring needs to be emphasized.

    Participants spoke of a lack of accountability between States and Service Delivery Areas (SDAs) and asked for an increased State presence and "ownership" of the use of Federal dollars and of the appropriateness of funding decisions. They requested that States monitor PIC's more closely and work to ensure the openness of the PIC planning process.

  4. Discussion. Despite the fact that the JTPA Amendments of 1992 were enacted in large part to ensure that the hard to serve are included among those served by JTPA, this iteration of concerns indicates that some of those groups are not being reached. In addition, although the provision of supportive services has been recognized as a predictor of participant success in JTPA programs, and participants' supportive service needs are required to be considered as a part of their JTPA program participation, it appears that those needs may require greater attention. Finally, community groups need to be regularly included in the development and operation of the JTPA program. Recently a State Job Training Coordinating Council rejected a local job training plan for failure to consult with labor and community-based organizations and failure to provide access to requested documents.

  5. Action. The Department believes that actively addressing the advocate's concerns will raise the awareness level of State and local program operators and improve JTPA programs consistent with the goals of the 1992 Amendments. The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) wants to work with States and SDAs to encourage sensitivity to these issues. To follow up on the Secretary Reich's Low Wage Workers Advocates' Conference, ETA will invite advocate groups and organizations to a follow-up meeting at the Department of Labor in Washington D.C. on June 3, 1994.

    State Liaisons should continue the discussion started at the Secretary's Low Wage Workers Advocates' Conference and work to achieve equitable, collaborative solutions to the concerns of the representatives of low wage workers. Regional Offices will be available to assist State and local efforts to follow up on the Low Wage Worker Advocates' Conference. Advocate concerns should also be addressed in sessions convened relative to the systemwide Dialogue process announced in a Federal Register Notice issued on May 18, 1994.

  6. Inquiries. For information the June 3 Low Wage Worker Advocates' Dialogue, contact Jim Zurer or Bonnie Naradzy at 202 219-5229 or 202-219-6825 respectively in the ETA Office of Employment and Training Programs.