A. Philip Randolph Institute, Pittsburgh Chapter

“Unemployment is the weapon of the unscrupulous employers determined to break the back of the organized labor movement.” – A. Philip Randolph

For more than 15 years the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) has partnered with the United Steelworkers and the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (TMC) to bring social and economic justice to hundreds of Pittsburghers who had previously been denied that opportunity.

As a union, USW lives, breathes and exists to promote social and economic justice for workers. That commitment does not stop with our current membership. The USW understands the connection between those fortunate enough to have a good union job and those that need one. Through the TMC, the USW offers support to APRI’s Breaking the Chains of Poverty program.

Breaking the Chains of Poverty is an APRI program that brings together disenfranchised community members with local unions to create opportunity for good people who need a second chance. This eight-week pre-apprenticeship program offers training to community members who have suffered hardships: incarceration, addiction, homelessness and other personal challenges.

Denashia Jones is going through the Breaking the Chains program to secure financial stability for her family.

“I have a six-year-old with Down syndrome,” Jones said.

“I need to be sustainable myself so I can be there for him.”

Jones is an energetic, funny and directed woman who has interests that range from cosmetology to underwater welding. But now she’s thinking of becoming an electrician – a job that can help her meet her goal of financial stability – and she scored high in math so it seems like a good match for her.

This program is a Pennsylvania-registered pre-apprenticeship program. That means that graduates will have opportunity to interview with several unions such as the Steamfitters, International Brotherhood of Electricians and Sheet Metal Workers. They are guaranteed a place in the Laborers International Union’s apprenticeship program.

This eight-week program provides several safety certifications. These classes are taught by TMC worker-trainers:

  • Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) 40-hour
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Outreach 30-hour Construction
  • First Aid/CPR
  • PennDOT Flagger (state certification)
  • Mold Remediation

The experience is equally rewarding for the TMC trainers. Dave Tapscott enjoys the training because, “It feels like I’m helping people."

Sebrina White finds it a nice change from just doing training at her site.

“There is a willingness to learn,” White said. “They are new and fresh. They just want to soak up our experience and knowledge.”

Tapscott and White work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) in Paducah, Ky., and are represented by USW Local Union 8-550.

Getting qualified for a job with a family-sustaining wage is the first step in rebuilding a life after seemingly insurmountable challenges. The Breaking the Chains program includes training to help graduates get past their struggles. In addition to job and safety training, the following skills are taught:

  • Financial Literacy
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Workplace Ethics
  • Human and Workers’ Rights

The success rate of the program is remarkable. Since it began in 2018, 142 of its 175 participants graduated and went on to jobs in construction, steel mills and other manufacturing facilities.

With the exception of 2020 (pandemic year) which had some obvious challenges, the graduation rate is between 84 to 90 percent.

The program isn’t easy but it is well worth it. According to DeWitt Walton, the program’s founder, “Half of being successful is taking away reasons for folks to tell you no.” Breaking the Chains of Poverty is doing just that.

To learn more about TMC training partners, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Pittsburgh Chapter, please visit their website at: pittsburghapri.org. You can also check out the “Breaking the Chain of Poverty” video by clicking here. For pictures from a recent APRI graduation, visit their Flickr page by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Graham, APRI staff.