About 60 angry teen-agers, wearing blue-and-white hard hats and carrying signs that said, "Don't Delay, Give Us Our Pay," marched downtown to the D.C. Department of Employment Services offices yesterday to confront officials of the city's troubled summer youths jobs program about overdue paychecks.
The youths, many of whom cleaned alleys and did construction work in last week's 90-degree heat, were to have been paid last Thursday for their first week on the job. But because of what one city official termed a "paper-work problem," they have not yet been paid.
After an hour-long meeting between Employment Services Director William R. Ford, Director of Youth Employment John Anderson and other city officials, and Rick Sowell, director of the Crispus Attucks Park work site (where the youths are employed) Ford announced to the workers, "You will have your checks tomorrow."
The protest that took place yesterday, without incident, was one of the first major confrontations over the District's problem-ridden youth jobs program, which began June 30. Of the 13,000 youths employed so far, city officials said, 1,800 have not been paid as scheduled.
Many problems that plagued the summer program last year have begun to crop up again this year, despite a new staff, a new set of procedures that were to keep these problems from happening again as well as a smaller program.
Students have shown up to work at least one work site where there is no work for them.
The city recreation department -- which hires one of the largest pools of summer employes of any city agency -- has reported having too few or too many students show up at various work sites.
Students had been paid for fewer hours than they had actually worked. At one housing project, East Capitol Dwellings, only about 75 of the 300 summer employes had been paid on payday last Friday, according to a worker at the housing project.
Mayor Marion Barry said at a press conference yesterday that he was "very unhappy" about the problems afflicting the program.
He acknowledged that around 1,800 youths have not been paid, but said the majority of them work for nonprofit organizations and not for the city. He said supervisors at the nonprofit groups have not been filling out the workers' time sheets correctly.
"The supervisors don't work for us," Barry said. "As an effort to help everybody, we try to scrutinize every single nonprofit organization. Unfortunately, in some instances, the supervisors don't learn what they ought to know."
"I naturally get very unhappy when young people go to work, put in their time and don't get paid," Barry said.
Barry said that all the youths employed in the program could count on getting their checks by late yesterday. The mayor added that he is recommending that a "special team" police program supervisors to make sure that time cards are being filled out properly.
Those participating in yesterday's protest were from one of the largest of hundreds of summer jobs work sites in the city, the Attucks Park, located near Second and U streets NW in the Bloomingdale section of the city.
Some of the youths do clerical work, others are involved in tasks such as coordination of music projects, while others are being trained in photography or working with neighborhood day-care centers. All are paid the minimum wage, $3.10 an hour. They range in age from 14 to 18.
There was considerable frustration voiced by the youths yesterday as they gathered in near 100-degree temperatures in a small park across Pennsylvania Avenue from the employment services building at 500 C St. NW.
"We put our minds to our work. Sometimes we stay a little over. I don't understand why they wouldn't pay us. It's only a summer job," said 17-year-old Katie Mobley of 4019 Wheeler Rd. SE., one of several "music coordinators."
Several of the teen-agers said they had counted on their checks to provide bus fare to come to work and said that their supervisors took money from their own pockets to tide them over.
Rodney Lewis, an 18-year-old who lives with his grandmother at 1604 Fourth St. NW, wondered whether it was worth his time to work for a mere $3.10 an hour and then not get paid.
"I don't need this," he said. "I thought they was gonna teach me a trade. Hell, I may as well go back to the streets. I could get two or three hundred dollars right now. The only reason I'm not is because I don't want to go to the pen."
Youth advocates have frequently labeled the summer jobs program a "make-work" program and have in the past consistently recommended that the youths receive more vocational training on the jobs they receive. But the program this year appears to be unchanged.
At the lincoln-Powell public pool on 16th Street NW, a recreation official said four youths for the summer would have been sufficient. Instead, the pool was sent eight.
One day last week, for example, one of the youths employed at the pool site was simply sitting down in the ladies' room; another was sitting in the pool's pump room while children swam in the pool under the supervision of several adults.
Another criticism has been that the Labor Department has sent the youths to work in sections of the city that are far from their homes. One youth worker said she had to take three buses to get to her work site in upper Northwest from her home in Southwest.
"There must be six work sites in her neighborhood where she could have been sent to work. Why couldn't she have been placed there? The way it is now, by the time these kids get to work, they're tired already," said one recreation worker who is supervising some of the youths in the summer program and who asked not to be named.
Some 18,000 youths were to have been employed in the jobs program this year. As of late last week, the city had found jobs for only 16,625. Some 20,553 youths had registered for summer jobs.