BRIDGEPORT — Jack Banta listened for several minutes Wednesday as executives with PSEG, the company building a gas-fired power plant on the harbor, announced a new on-site construction union apprenticeship initiative.
“All of that’s me,” Banta, a city councilman, said when it was his turn to speak. Banta, who works for Metro North, is a 30-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. His career started with an apprenticeship.
“It’s given me a chance to have a good quality of life,” Banta said.
Dubbed PSEG Ready2Work, funded with $500,000 from the company and managed and run by The Workplace and Building Pathways CT, the apprenticeship program unveiled Wednesday resulted from a deal the city and PSEG brokered in 2015 and early 2016.
That pact — a “community environmental benefit agreement” — required PSEG’s controversial coal-fired plant to cease commercial operations by July 1, 2021. But in order to gain local support for the gas-run replacement, PSEG agreed to other conditions. One of those was working with area trades unions “to include Bridgeport residents in apprenticeship programs … for general employment in the building trades for the duration of the construction of the project.”
There are 50 openings. The training will begin in January and last 14 months. Prospective applicants can learn more online at BridgeportHarborStation.com/Ready2Work or by calling The Workplace at 203-610-8500.
“The ability to prepare individuals — Bridgeport residents, local residents — for the type of job opportunities on this site … is significant and basic to moving a community forward,” Mayor Joe Ganim told the other elected officials, community leaders and laborers assembled on PSEG’s Atlantic Street property Wednesday.
The benefit agreement was initiated by Mayor Bill Finch and finalized in late February 2016 by Ganim’s administration.
Ganim’s choice of words Wednesday — referring to “the type of job opportunities” at the gas plant, rather than actual jobs there — was worth noting. In September several religious leaders held a press conference at Shiloh Baptist Church, across from the coal plant, to assail PSEG for broken promises to provide apprenticeships that would lead to jobs building the gas-fired facility.
And, the pastors had claimed, PSEG had promised 100 to 125 apprenticeships, not 50, though the community environmental benefit agreement did not contain specific numbers. The pastors had already been signing eager applicants up.
Richard Thigpen, PSEG’s vice president of state government affairs, said in an interview Wednesday: “It’s easy to throw out big numbers, but not so easy to produce concrete opportunities for those numbers. … We believe PSEG is living up to the letter and spirit of the community environmental benefits agreement and, in fact, going beyond.”
Thigpen also noted that PSEG is trying to fulfill another piece of the benefit agreement by hiring local businesses for subcontracting work at the gas plant. He named in particular WC McBride Electrical.
The Rev. Carl McCluster, Shiloh’s pastor, attended Wednesday’s announcement and was acknowledged by Thigpen. McCluster said he and Thigpen met afterwards for a few minutes.
“We wanted more,” McCluster said. “We’ll take what we have and try to build upon it.” He suggested other developers seeking to build in Bridgeport likewise agree to launch union apprenticeship programs modeled after PSEG’s.
“There is no excuse now for anyone else not to follow suit,” McCluster said.