Mayor Marion Barry announced a plan yesterday to train city workers for suburban jobs and help them with transportation to job sites, in an attempt to link large numbers of unemployed District residents with jobs going begging in the suburbs.
The seven-point plan also includes more extensive information and referral services between District and suburban agencies and businesses, particularly in Northern Virginia, as well as creation of a Washington Metropolitan Area Job Council to promote regional cooperation on employment.
Public transportation will be subsidized for some individuals with particular needs, according to the plan.
While the District has sustained the highest unemployment rate in the area, 8 percent in April, suburban areas in general and Fairfax County in particular have suffered from a serious labor shortage in blue-collar and service industries. Employers in Northern Virginia, which has a 2.8 percent unemployment rate, have recruited workers from as far as West Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Unemployed District residents have said the main barriers to taking jobs in Northern Virginia are the difficulty in getting there on public transportation and a perception among blacks that employers there are racist.
District and Fairfax officials have been discussing ways to match city workers with jobs in Virginia ever since news reports about the situation appeared last month.
"I am confident that once these firms start hiring District workers, it will soon become apparent that suburban firms will no longer find it necessary to recruit workers from distant states," Barry said in announcing the program. "I am appealing directly to suburban employers to give our workers a chance."
Barry's program includes creation of a Transportation Response Center with a hot line to tell individuals on a case-by-case basis how they can get from their homes to particular jobs in the suburbs on existing transportation. It also will coordinate car pools to jobs.
When a suburban employer hires at least five District residents, the city will provide vans or cars to take employes to the site from central locations, such as Metro stops. When the individual could reach the job by subway or bus but the cost is prohibitively high, the city will subsidize the transit costs, perhaps having the individual pay $1.60 a day -- the equivalent of the minimum round-trip Metro fare -- with the District picking up the rest.
"Fear of the unknown is perhaps the most serious barrier to District residents going out," said Matthew Shannon, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. The city hopes to find concentrations of jobs for District residents at shopping malls, industrial parks and hotels to make the van operation efficient, he said.
Shannon said that suburban employers have misconceptions about District workers, particularly that they are inexperienced or uneducated, and that city officials will show them this is not the case.
Barry said he and other officials will meet with suburban employers to match job openings with D.C. workers and to "customize" training. The city will screen and refer District workers to suburban employers that list jobs with the city employment services department, and officials will arrange transportation to the job interview sites.
In a related matter, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the District's budget, said yesterday he plans to add a major initiative on jobs and job training to the city's money bill this year.
"It is of enormous national importance," Specter said of the need for jobs programs. "That's my initiative for this year."
Barry's announcement took Fairfax County officials by surprise, but several Fairfax officials and employers said they would do what they could to cooperate.
John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the county will welcome qualified D.C. workers and will provide what administrative services and coordination it can to help Barry's project.
"I just think employes and employers meeting together and finding mutually profitable marriages is in the public interest, wherever they may come from," he said.
"I think the concept is sound. It needs some fleshing out," said Fairfax County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert.
"Anything, certainly, is a help," said Robert Murphy of R.J. Murphy Carpenter-Contractors Inc. of Springfield, who is short 60 to 70 carpenters on his 100-man crew.