By Leslie Green

Pauline Headley at work on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge; Courtesy of Author

The construction of the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, also known as the South Capitol Street Bridge, is the largest infrastructure project in the history of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). In addition to increasing vehicular and pedestrian safety and improving transportation options and convenience, the significance of this new bridge for the nation’s capital is that it is creating jobs for District residents. 

This iconic project has a wide range of employment opportunities in design, engineering and other construction trades, ranging from pile driving to carpentry. The hiring process is unique in that it is governed by a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) in coordination with DDOT and C.H.O.I.CE. (Community Hub for Opportunities in Construction Employment – Baltimore Washington Building Trades Unions). This agreement ensures that all workers, union and non-union, hired in any capacity on the bridge project enjoy the wages, benefits and safety provisions of a collectively bargained contract.

Since construction began in early 2018, six job fairs have been held around the city and more than 100 District residents, 71 of whom reside in Wards 6, 7 and 8, have been hired to work on the project. Nearly 20 more District residents have participated in the project’s On-The-Job Training (OJT) Program, which provides training opportunities for women, minorities, and disadvantaged residents to increase their participation in every job classification in the highway construction industry.

Pauline Headley, a recent participant in the OJT Program from Congress Heights in Ward 8 stated, “While I’ve done construction work before, I never envisioned myself making a bridge. In the OJT Program every day I’m learning something new, I am getting mentoring and taking coursework that will help me forward my career in the construction industry. This project is tremendous for D.C. and it’s a great opportunity for me to have this experience working on this historic bridge honoring Frederick Douglass.”

In order for job seekers to be eligible for hiring, he or she must meet a list of minimum requirements depending on which trade job they are pursuing, ranging from an electrician to a cement or plaster mason. Most positions have a minimum requirement of having a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED) equivalent, being at least 18 years of age and having a driver’s license.

“The Baltimore DC Building Trades, our affiliates and our members take great pride in working on these marquee projects in the District of Columbia. Our local unions’ registered apprenticeship programs provide people with little or no experience in the construction industry the ability to enter into a viable career and earn while they learn. In addition, our registered apprenticeship programs are “multi-employer,” so when the project is completed the apprentices can be sent to another one of our contractors’ projects to continue their registered apprenticeship training and continue earning family- sustaining wages and benefits,” shares Stephen Courtien, Director of the Baltimore Washington Building Trades Unions. 

The unions also offer paid apprenticeship programs for job seekers who need experience or may be uncertain about their interest in a particular trade. These apprenticeships offer a solid foundation for aspiring construction professionals who are seeking to work on the bridge.The next job fair, which will be held in conjunction with the bridge project’s community-based partners, will take place in December 2019. Job seekers are encouraged to visit http://www.southcapbridgeproject.com/trade to learn how to become eligible for jobs on the bridge and to receive specific details on upcoming job fairs. For more information on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge project, visit www.newfrederickdouglassbridge.com.

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