My Turn: Hypocrisy from Ayotte on jobs center
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte was quick to put on a hard hat and pick up a prop shovel for a photo-op last week to mark the ground-breaking at a federal Job Corps training center in Manchester. She and her fellow elected officials patted each other on the back for taking steps to train local workers for the jobs of the future. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to Ayotte’s efforts, workers who actually build our new Job Corps Center will likely do so without the benefit of a training program of their own, without health insurance and without important workplace protections. It’s hypocritical of Ayotte to leave New Hampshire construction workers hanging out to dry like this.
Everyone recognizes the importance of creating new ways to train New Hampshire workers for the 21st-century economy. That’s why I have always supported the Job Corps Center’s mission. I believe it will bring positive results to the Manchester community and to our state and, most important, to the young men and women who will get the training they need to enter the New Hampshire workforce.
Unfortunately, this much-needed project has been delayed for more than five years, largely due to Ayotte’s opposition to worker protections. In 2012, Ayotte and others pressured the federal government to kill an agreement that would have required contractors on the project to provide an apprenticeship training program, health insurance benefits, important workplace protections and fair wages to their workers. She falsely claimed these protections would favor out-of-state contractors and make it harder for New Hampshire workers to compete for jobs. She has consistently misrepresented the effect protections for workers would have had on the overall cost of the project, and she is misleading the public about the harm her efforts to eliminate those protections will cause to workers and taxpayers.
The truth is, Ayotte’s efforts will make it easier for Job Corps Center contractors to use undocumented workers, to misclassify their employees as independent contractors and to avoid paying workers compensation or unemployment insurance. Skimping on training, health insurance and workplace protections will only serve to make a greater profit for the contractors, not save money for taxpayers or create more New Hampshire jobs in the long run.
I was disappointed to hear Ayotte tell NHPR, “When you do remove onerous requirements from Washington, you can actually build projects like this for lower cost.” Unfortunately, this rhetoric couldn’t be further from the truth. Ayotte may find offering training and health insurance to workers “onerous,” but the truth is healthy, well-trained workers will perform more efficiently and save the state a lot of money in the long run. Workers and their families who have health insurance through their job don’t depend on state services when they get sick. Having health insurance means better access to preventive care, which means fewer days out sick. And ensuring the workers who build the Job Corps center have access to a top-notch training program will not only improve the quality of the work they do, it will help New Hampshire’s labor force perform better overall.
Workers in New Hampshire, especially in the construction sector, are still having a tough time. Eliminating requirements for training and health care on projects like the Job Corps Center will mean more workers depending on state services and a poorer value for the taxpayers who are paying for this project. Ayotte is being hypocritical by touting the importance of building the Job Corps Center on one hand, but insisting that basic training and health benefits for the workers who build it aren’t worth the short-term costs. She and others who pushed for eliminating these protections are missing the big picture. New Hampshire will be more economically secure, healthier and more equitable if more workers have access to training and health benefits. It’s a shame we missed that opportunity with the Job Corps Center.
(Joe Casey is president of the New Hampshire Building and Construction Trades Council.)