Representatives of thirty community groups, who form the Erie Community Benefits Agreements Coalition, staged a peaceful demonstration on the edge of the multi-million dollar Erie Insurance construction project. They want to see Erie's economically disadvantaged included in this work opportunity.
Erie NAACP President Gary Horton an organizer of the rally said, "If development is to benefit everyone and a rising tide is to lift all boats, then we need to see people of color working on projects like this."
PJ Dick Construction of Pittsburgh and EE Austin of Erie have the general contracts on a project so big, many contractors across the state shied away from the bid process.
Dale Snyder, Pastor of St. James AME Church, carrying a sign at the rally said, "This is a 120-million dollar project, if they would have set aside just 10% it would have been 12-million-dollars worth of opportunities for small, medium, minority, women owned businesses to have an opportunity to participate on the project, now whether you can find them or not, that's another question."
Jeff Brinling, Erie Insurance Senior Vice President of Corporate Services was surprised by the demonstration. "We have met with a number of different members of leadership of the African American community and quite frankly we were surprised a little bit by the event and the reaction, we are very much involved in leveraging our project to help underprivileged youth," Brinling said. "We announced a number of months ago our project with Bishop Dwane Brock and really that connects to what we had found is really a need within the community, there is a shortage of skilled labor in the city of Erie and in the region." Brinling went on to say, "The trade unions are looking for people to fill rolls to really help them into the coming years for all the projects that are happening around the city of Erie."
That project is taking up to 18 minority youth into the Eagle's Nest training program, preparing them for apprenticeships on the Erie Insurance project, paying their salaries, providing their hard hats, even covering their worker's compensation. It's something Brock says has never been done before in the region. "They have stepped in to change these young people's lives and give them life sustaining jobs beyond this project and I think Erie Insurance ought to be commended for it."
The demonstrators are looking beyond construction to job opportunities when the the building is done in 2020. Pastor Snyder said, "We're talking about people who own property in this footprint, who would like a seat at the table, and say you know can we be a part of the 900 jobs that are coming, can my son or daughter be part of a training program so in eight or nine months or a year they're going to have an opportunity to work right here in their own home town?"
According to Senior Vice President Brinling, "We have a very diverse workforce now, we have a very strong statement around hiring practices to make sure that people’s ethnicity, race, gender aren’t factored into decisions, jobs go to the right people and we are very public about our support of a diverse workforce, we think that makes us a better company."
And he said there is a seat at the table. "I would say that in meeting with leaders, including leaders from this group, they've been constructive meetings and there are opportunities for us to work together, and as an organization we look to partner with the community to help better the city of Erie."