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Unions Spearhead Worker Training Investments

Unions, employers, community groups and government agencies are pioneering innovative ways to help workers with limited English skills get family-sustaining jobs while they improve their language ability, according to one of two recent reports by the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute (WAI). In another report, the institute documents the important role unions are playing in helping child care workers improve their skills and wages.

Getting to Work: A Report on How Workers with Limited English Skills Can Prepare for Good Jobs finds lack of English skills blocks immigrants from government-sponsored worker training programs. “Without this training they are stuck in low-paying jobs and often must work multiple shifts and part-time jobs in order to support their families and sustain their communities,” the study says.

“If we, as a nation, choose not to support, or are unable to support, immigrants and refugees until they have become fluent in English, then we must help them get and keep the best possible jobs while they continue to gain greater English fluency,” the report says.

Unions Spearhead Immigrant Training Projects
Immigrants make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, and many unions are helping meet these workers’ needs, according to the report. For instance:

  • Bilingual classes in building and construction skills funded by the Laborers-Associated General Contractors Education and Training Fund, helping apprentices earn starting wages of $11.55 an hour with benefits in Southern California.

  • Classes for foreign-born workers who were nurses in their countries of origin but work here as home health aides. The New York Hospital League/SEIU 1199 Education Training and Job Security Fund helps these workers become certified to work as nurses in the United States with English classes and preparation for the licensure exam to become registered nurses.

  • The partnership between UNITE HERE Local 226 in Las Vegas and the Culinary Training Academy, which helps immigrant workers learn enough English to apply for hotel jobs. Those who are placed in union jobs earn about $10 an hour with health and pension benefits. UNITE HERE Local 54 in Atlantic City, N.J., and UNITE HERE Local 2 in San Francisco are partners in similar programs.


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