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Job training contractor calls foul play on DESC

Provider says they were wrongfully terminated, files grievances

By Mike Sandula
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — A company that has provided jobs, education and training (JET) to Detroiters for over 20 years has been put out of a job.

On Aug. 31, TWW Employment Solutions’ JET contract — worth over $1 million annually — with Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC) was terminated.

DESC recently replaced the Detroit Department of Workforce Development (DWDD). The newly-formed nonprofit will manage $60 million in federal grant dollars that the city of Detroit is, ultimately, responsible for. The 1,900 clients serviced through that contract will now be serviced by another JET contractor, the Foundation of Behavioral Research.

Terrie Henderson, president and CEO of TWW, called it “one of the biggest cases of discrimination” she’s ever seen. She and her fellow staffers have filed grievances with the City of Detroit claiming they were wrongfully terminated.

The city contract was TWW’s only current agreement, meaning the agency — whose six case managers have a combined 20-plus years of experience — will be out of work.

Grievances

DESC gave the Black, female-owned firm, a dissatisfactory site report, which resulted in the contract termination. TWW objected to the findings. According to Daniel Aldridge, a TWW senior case manager, the site report was not thorough and a corrective action plan was never given to the organization.

Further, Aldridge says, City Council has not recognized DESC as an authorized organization because DDWD did not issue a request for proposals, which is required to modify or terminate existing contracts worth more than $25,000. Aldridge also notes TWW was not decertified by City Council.

TWW staffers say they were unable to settle the matter informally.

“We haven’t been able to plan a day with Pamela Moore,” said Ada Clay, director of the JET program at TWW.

Responding to questions the Michigan Citizen sent via e-mail, Moore, president/CEO of DESC and formerly the director of DDWD, wrote “DESC contractors are selected and retained based on availability of funding, their meeting required program outcomes, as well as policy and fiscal compliance. As administrative and fiscal agent, it is our obligation and responsibility to terminate those found to be unable to meet these standards.”

TWW staffers went before City Council on Sept. 4 to ask Council to stop the termination of their contract.

“What’s happening to us, to the city in general — I can’t sleep at night,” Henderson said. Council members said the matter isn’t up to them and that TWW should go to the mayor’s office. TWW did go to the mayor’s office Aug. 29. As Aldridge told City Council, there were told by one of the mayor’s assistants that it was a state matter; Aldridge said the state, meanwhile, has told them it’s a city matter.

DDWD becomes DESC

The new City Employment Terms (CET), which were presented to City Council on July 16, called for the elimination of the Detroit Department of Workforce Development (DDWD), among other city departments. On July 17, Council voted down the CET on a 5-4 vote, but the following day, Mayor Dave Bing announced the terms would be implemented anyway — effective immediately.

On Aug. 19, The Michigan Citizen reported that financial and administrative duties previously handled by DDWD would now be carried out by DESC, a nonprofit entity.

At an Aug. 7 City Council session, Moore said nonprofit status allows her to create more public-private partnerships. She told the Michigan Citizen that “a nonprofit organizational structure allows us to respond quickly to employer talent and training demands, reduce overhead costs, design and measure data-driven programs using state-of-the-art technology, create efficient and effective internal systems and processes, improve performance outcomes, leverage ever-dwindling public dollars to secure private dollars and attract and retain the best and brightest with a competitive compensation package.”

Willie Walker, who served as director of the DDWD from 1994 to 2001 and is now the human resources officer for TWW, says Workforce Development was already able to work hand-in-hand with private companies. He says he had an individual on staff that maintained contact with the private sector.

Furthermore, “Putting it in a nonprofit does not guarantee success,” Walker told the Michigan Citizen, citing the cities of Philadelphia and New York, which previously turned such departments over to nonprofit entities before later requesting them back after unsatisfactory results.

Walker said the current approach is different from when he served as director. When problems occurred, he said, he didn’t terminate contracts; he’d sit down with people to see what could be done better.

“Now it appears there is no team approach; you’re on your own, sink or swim.”

In addition to filing a grievance with the city, Walker has also asked the U.S. Department of Labor to launch an investigation.

“Many of the employees of TWW are senior citizens and we believe that DDWD is discriminating against not only a female minority contractor, but also its employees by denying due process via the grievance process,” Walker’s grievance reads, in part.

‘The whole person’

TWW staffers say they do more than provide job training for their clients.

“We treat the whole person,” Clay said. Many customers who come to TWW are high school dropouts, substance abusers or victims of domestic violence. Clay says getting and holding a job is difficult for those who have problems at home, therefore those issues must be addressed first.

TWW, presently located at 645 Griswold St., in the Penobscot Building, has served the city for 25 years. On site, TWW has classrooms, a computer lab and small offices where case managers work one-on-one with customers.

Henderson, who’s provided job-training assistance in the city of Detroit for 34 years, once received an award from President George H.W. Bush for getting all then-existing clients to zero percent, meaning they were self-sufficient and no longer in need of government assistance.

Dereka and Tierra Wilson (not related) both utilize TWW’s services. Dereka Wilson, 22, has received help — transportation, classes, etc. — from TWW from a year. She currently works with Elite Campaigns, collecting signatures for petitions. Tierra Wilson, 22, is a mother of two. She’s been at TWW for two months, looking for work in direct care.

“I come here every day to get job leads,” she said. She described the program as a second chance. “If (TWW) closes, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

TWW says if they lose their jobs, however, they’ll simply become volunteers.

“We will still be here, (we’re) still going to try to direct our customers because that is just our commitment to them,” Henderson said.

Contact Mike Sandula at mikesandula@michigancitizen.com

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