Loose Lips

Take This Job and Love It

Ron Hantz says he was pretty happy when the District helped him get a new job after being unemployed for a year and a half. Then he started spending most workdays going door to door giving away light bulbs.

A Navy veteran who worked as a mortgage officer for seven years before losing his job, Hantz went to the Department of Employment Services for help. The city got him a job with L.S. Caldwell, a small contracting and employment monitoring firm. The company is part of a new green energy initiative called the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility, whose purpose includes helping District residents find jobs in a “green economy.” L.S. Caldwell used a DOES training program that covers 90 percent of an employee’s salary to help pay for Hantz and 11 others. When Mayor Vince Gray announced he was adding $2 million to the job training budget last year as part of his One City One Hire workforce development initiative, the firm’s boss, Loretta Caldwell, was a featured speaker.

But Hantz says the city isn’t getting its money’s worth. Most days he knocks on doors and hands out energy-efficient light bulbs to residents who happen to be home. Hantz says he’s worried that when the job, which pays $14.50 an hour, ends this spring, he’ll have nothing to show for it.

“For the most part, participants have stumbled along with [L.S. Caldwell] without any clear expectations on how, when or if, we would receive the ‘green job tools’ which would aid us with securing permanent employment,” Hantz wrote to DOES last November, asking them to investigate.

On a recent Friday, Hantz is sitting at a small booth near the entrance of the Home Depot on Rhode Island Avenue NE, talking up efficiency as part of his work. On display are various light bulbs. Flip a switch, and you can see how bright each one is. When a customer can’t find a particular bulb from Home Depot’s stock, Hantz tries to help. That’s not his job, but he does it anyway as a “courtesy.”

Shortly before his shift ends at 1 p.m., his replacement, Cynthia Dudley, arrives. She says she worked for the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency for 22 years before being laid off. She, too, was excited to get training for a green job. But that excitement wore off when it became clear there was little more to the job than giving bulbs away.

“After a while, it became meaningless,” Dudley says.

Their boss, Caldwell, sees things differently. “They are just disgruntled employees,” she says of Dudley and Hantz. She says their jobs are more than just handing out free light bulbs; they also gather information on energy use for the Sustainable Energy Utility, so their official titles are “data collection associates.”

“They were hired to be data collections associates. That was the job,” she says. Caldwell, who ran the D.C. human rights office when Marion Barry was mayor, adds that she’s provided plenty in the way of on-the-job training, improving her workers’ “oration,” “writing,” and “social” skills. Caldwell says one data collection associate has already been hired full-time by a contractor; another is now her full-time executive assistant. “There’s always going to be folks who aren’t happy,” she says.

Maybe, but Hantz and Dudley’s complaints echo a common refrain in District government for decades: that the city’s workforce development programs aren’t getting the job done. High unemployment in poorer neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River has been a persistent and vexing program. The current unemployment rate in Ward 7 is about 14 percent. In Ward 8, it’s about 20 percent. The reasons why so many residents can’t find jobs—including poor schooling, lack of training, and criminal records—are easy to understand but hard to solve.

The mayor, whose campaign platform focused heavily on job creation, has made One City One Hire a signature part of his administration. He and his aides often tout it as an “innovative” success.

Gray has credited One City One Hire with a significant role in reducing the city’s unemployment rate to 8.2 percent. (What’s probably helped more: the District’s many new residents, most of whom appear to have come here for or with a job.)

But current and former DOES employees say the initiative is little more than a repackaging of existing programs.

“These programs are doing the same things and getting the same results,” says one senior DOES official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. DOES records show that the 5,000 new hires Gray credits the program with include more than 1,500 through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a longstanding federal program; more than 1,000 through the city’s apprenticeship and First Source law, which have long mandated construction contractors to hire locals; and seven through a senior-oriented job placement program that was around long before One City One Hire.

LL’s sources also note that the agency’s One City One Hire hasn’t tracked how many of the 5,000 new hires are on the job (many employers are in high-turnover industries, like food service) and that the agency’s data overall is unreliable. DOES Director Lisa Mallory says her agency is auditing retention rates, but officials weren’t very helpful when LL tried to see some numbers for himself.

DOES did provide LL the number of new hires by a half-dozen organizations that were part of the mayor’s initial news conference announcing the initiative. They include Georgetown University (zero hires) and George Washington University (one hire). But then officials said they couldn’t provide the totals for the rest of the program because that would violate federal privacy laws.

Data aside, LL didn’t have to look far to find at least one happy customer. Thomas Penny, the general manager at the Courtyard Washington Convention Center, says he’s hired six new District residents he wouldn’t have hired if DOES hadn’t introduced them to him.

Mallory says that kind of aggressive job placement was lacking in previous administrations. She says One City One Hire’s other successes include creating a recognizable brand, bringing a heightened focus on hiring District residents from areas with high unemployment, and making existing programs more efficient.

“For government, this is innovation,” Mallory says. “It may not be for the private sector, but it is for government.”

Just don’t tell that to Ron Hantz.

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  • Drez

    Crap.
    Ward 8 unemployment is still about 30%.
    How soon does the federal dollars paying these "disgruntled" employees run out, and what will their political-hack boss say then?
    I know what I'll say: Same shit different day year.

  • truth hurts

    nice, LL.

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  • DC Guy

    Yes, a good piece. Systemic to basically under-utilize what should have been a great idea. DCSEU - free lightbulbs for all.

  • truthbetold

    Great article! This is a common theme with all of these so call employers that get DC Govt. money. Once the money runs out, these people will be out of work.

    L.S. Caldwell and other CBE (Good ole boy network) will look for other non-bid contracts to suck down DC Govt. money. The whole system is a joke.

  • Tom M.

    There is ample reason to believe there are further problems to be uncovered if you look further at performance of DOES and the "training" contracts. Perfomance metrics don't exist or add up and, despite the overwhelming needs in many parts of our city, this is a black hole for improvements so far.

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    Mallory hasn't the slightest clue

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  • sKeptic

    It's asking a little much of a job placement and training program to fix someone who was "laid off" after 22 years at a governmental agency. Did it not occur to you LL that perhaps the two examples of "not working for me" folks were just a little over-experienced for entry level jobs?

  • noodlez

    FIRST OF ALL THIS PROBLEM IS SYSTEMIC THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY ESPECIALLY WITH NEW ENERGY JOBS. TECHNOLOGY AND COMPUTERS HAVE REPLACED US. FACT OF LIFE.

    I HAD HIGH HOPES FOR SEWERMAN THIS YEAR.
    THEN BAM! TWO WEEKS INTO THE NEW YEAR A SUCKAMOVE PIECE ON SOME JOKER WHO CLAIMS HE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO SHOW FOR HIS $14.50 AN HOUR GIG. EXCUSE ME SIR YOU CAN SHOW SOME PAYSTUBS WHEN A NUMBER OF FOLK WHO HAVE MORE CREDENTIALS THAN YOU CAN’T.

    SO MR. HANTZ STOP LOOKING FOR WORK AND UPWARD MOBILITY BECAUSE HE THOUGHT HE WAS IN A PROGRAM WHERE HE WOULD RECEIVE THE GREEN JOB TOOLS WHICH WOULD AID HIM IN SECURING PERMANENT EMPLOYMENT? NEWSFLASH!!!! IT IS THE “ONE STOP” EMPLOYMENT CENTER NOT THE FINAL STOP.
    HEY BRO YOU SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B.

    HIS PROBLEM IS BLACK FOLK PROBLEM PERSONIFIED.
    WE THINK EASY STREET IS A HIGHWAY UNTIL WE GET TO THE DEAD END THEN WE WANT TO BLAME EVERYONE ELSE BECAUSE WE DIDN’T TURN OFF BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE.

    YO COWBAMMA LOVING HACKOLOGIST YOU THINK WE CAN GET A POSITIVE STORY OR AN UPLIFTING STORY? THINGS CAN'T BE ALL BAD ALL THE TIME. JUS SAYIN'.

    ONE CITY.

  • Drez

    Damn, noodlez, you half right for once.

  • Drez

    Where you go wrong is beating up on CP for stating the obvious.

  • noodlez

    @Drez-MY ETERNAL OPTIMISM ALLOWS ME TO SEE EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG. MY DC UPBRINGING ALLOWS ME TO SPEAK MY MIND. WHILE I APPRECIATE YOUR CANDOR YOUR OBSERVATION IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS CITY AND SEWERMAN’S PERSPECTIVE.

    SO EXACTLY WHAT IS SO OBVIOUS ABOUT THIS STORY? OTHER THAN THE FACT THAT THE COWBAMMA LOVIN HACKOLOGIST CAN GO TO EVERY GOV'T AGENCY IN THIS COUNTRY & CITY AND FIND SOMETHING WRONG WITHIN ITS CONFINES. GOVERNMENT IS NOT A PANACEA BUT A MEANS TO CUSHION TO YOUR FALL FOR A BOUNCE BACK. NO MORE. NO LESS.

    LOOK LL IS ALL ABOUT DC POLITICS AND DC POLITICS IS NOT ALL WRONG OR BAD BUT CONSTANTLY POINTING OUT THE ILLS DOES NOT HELP IN CURING SAID ILLS. IT JUST MAKES YOU SICKER! SLIM I HAVE TO TAKE ISSUE WITH YOU SIDING WITH YOUR BOY (ANY OTHER TIME I COULD CARE LESS) BECAUSE STATING THE OBVIOUS IS SOME HOW LOOSE LIPS TO YOU BUT IT IS NOT FOR ME.

    ONE CITY!

  • drez

    noodlez
    It's not the $14.50/hr paystubs that's the problem. It's the lack of generalized public good created by handing out light bulbs that is. Dudes need to be building bridges, or compiling research, or doing something that, after a while, doesn't become meaningless.
    It's great people have jobs and paychecks- but not great that jobs and paychecks are the only (non-political) benefit.
    It could- and should- be so much more. I guess I take issue with your statement that "government is... a means to cushion to your fall for a bounce back". No, government governs. If it can cushion falls and employ people while doing this, well that is an additional good.

  • noodlez

    @downtown resident-EVERYONE ISNT BUILT FOR RESEARCH AND IM WIT YA ON THE BRIDGE BUILDING SHIT. HOWEVA THERE ARE CERTAIN FOLK WHO ARE GAINFULLY EMPLOYED THAT DONT VIEW THEIR JOB MEANINGLESS. THEY MAY NOT LOVE THEIR JOB BUT THEY LIKE IT ENOUGH TO ACCEPT THE POSITION THEY ARE IN AND DO THEIR VERY BEST AT IT. THEN YOU HAVE PEOPLE WHO ARE NEVER SATISFIED NO MATTER WHAT!! THEY ARE CONSTANTLY COMPLAINING BECAUSE THEY CHOSE TO BE STAGNANT AND COMPLACENT WITH THEIR LIFE.

    SLIM ITS 2013!!!!
    IT IS TIME FOLK TO MAN UP.

  • SayWhat

    To the ingrate who is on here complaining maybe if you never worked again, you would me most happy. I wish they would let me hand out lightbulbs as a part-time job, I would be most grateful, but not your sorry weak ass, how about a bread line for you.

  • Drez

    noodlez
    Your post was more of a dodge than a reply, and you and I both know it.

  • Drez

    Damn
    /b

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