The Boston Workers Alliance (BWA) is an advocacy organization founded in 2005 for the purpose of uplifting the local community by advocating for the rights of the unemployed as well as those underemployed in Boston and other areas of the state of Massachusetts. For all intents and purposes, the BWA is a trade union though its membership is largely drawn from unemployed members of the local community as well as some underemployed ones who are disaffected by their current income generating streams. BWA is well known for the organization’s relentless campaign for the reform of the discriminatory (CORI) Criminal Offender Record Information laws. However, as the following comprehensive guide will serve to show, there is more to the BWA than CORI reforms.
The Structure and Mission of BWA For well over a decade today, the Boston Workers Alliance has worked in the larger Boston area, helping workers improve their skills, and sharing necessary resources for them to find meaningful employment.
To attain its objectives, the Boston Workers Alliance is made of four operational committees:
- CORI Reform
- Job Creation
- Legislative and Media
Reaching out to the community is a crucial cog in the machinery deployed by the Boston Workers Alliance in achieving their mission. The organization has carried out intensive outreach programs reaching out to members of the community, the unemployed, those affected by CORI discrimination as well as seeking synergetic relationships with likeminded bodies both at the state and federal level.
Since the foundation of the Boston Workers Alliance, the members of the union have always taken a tough stance against the then draconian CORI laws. In 2010 Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts, signed into law a bill with plenty of CORI reforms. The new law struck out CORI regulations which were unfairly denying people with criminal records and the youth in general from finding employment. The advocacy carried out by the Boston Workers Alliance as well as partners like the Massachusetts Alliance to Reform CORI, EPOCA (Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement) and Neighbor to Neighbor were central in getting the local administration see the sense to reform CORI.
The Boston Workers Alliance puts a lot of effort in creating jobs for its members but also for the general community. The committee charged with job creation strategies works hand in hand with the campaigns and organizing wing of the union to push for reforms which offer better employment prospects for BWA members and also those caught in similar predicament across the wider society.
Legislative and Media
The Boston Workers Alliance recognizes that there is need to reach out and create synergies in order to achieve the organization’s broader objectives. This is why there is a dedicated committee charged with overseeing BWA’s engagement with the local and federal legislative bodies. Over the years the committee has steered a number of campaigns to ensure law, regulations and ordinances passed into law were in keeping with the ethical and all-inclusive philosophy that led to the foundation of the body. The committee also works tirelessly to ensure that the wider public is kept up-to-date with the latest developments and community initiatives of the organization. By the same token, the committee publishes a periodical newsletter espousing the achievements of BWA and telling the real life stories of the members. Courtesy of the committee, registered members also receive regular email updates.
Who Should Join Boston Workers Alliance?
Boston Workers Alliance has always been a union for an about people who are unemployed and those in some form of employment but who can barely make ends meet. But as this guide will show later, there are opportunities for people from all walks of life but who share the same ideals revealed by the broader BWA objectives to join hands with the organization and contribute to a worthy cause.
BWA Programs and Services
In order to reach the wider community and, of course, serve the needs of its present members, Boston Workers Alliance has been dedicated to offering clear-cut services run under several programs. The most prominent of these are:
- Membership and support
- BWA direct services
- Economic development
- Campaigns and organizing
Membership and Support
The Boston Workers Alliance is a very inclusive organization and boasts membership from a wide cross section of society. Whether you are unemployed or just tired of having to work two jobs while barely making ends meet, you are welcome to join the BWA. The union offers three alternative membership plans:
1. BWA Base Member
The BWA base membership plan is mainly for those unemployed and/or dealing with CORI discrimination in their search for a job. With a base membership, you have full job search and CORI issues support through BWA’s Worker Center and CORI Clinic programs as well as enjoying referral to the Boston Staffing Alliance. Base members also enjoy discounted rates for entry to BWA events and are enrolled to receive the BWA newsletter as well as regular email updates in order to keep in touch with the latest community events and issues.
2. BWA Active Member
BWA’s active members are more involved in the daily running of the union compared to base members. They enjoy all the benefits accorded to the former group in addition to voting rights in the election of the board and committee membership as well as wider decisions affecting the organization. Active members can also nominate members and are eligible to run for committee chair positions. They also have a wider accessibility to conferences, workshops and forums organized at the local level as well as nationally. Other benefits of active membership include access to the holiday party, turkey drive, cook outs and the annual dinner.
3. BWA Ally Member
The BWA ally membership plan is reserved for individuals who support the mission of the Boston Workers Alliance as well as its grassroots organization model but who may not have the means or time to participate in the day to day running or the union. Such people may or may not be unemployed, underemployed or be dealing with CORI issues. Benefits of a BWA ally membership include regular alerts for the organization’s important economic and social justice campaigns, access to the BWA newsletter and email updates, invitation to attend BWA premier events at discounted rates as well as opportunities to intern or complete school requirements.
BWA Direct Services
You do not have to be a member of the Boston Workers Alliance to benefit from the organization’s services. BWA is always committed to reaching out to the community and in keeping with this objective offer a series of free services to members of the public who are in need of employment opportunities and assistance. The organization is eager to lend our support in any form, especially where this has to do with CORI discrimination.
The programs ran under the auspices of BWA’s direct services to the community include:
1. The BWA’s Worker Center
The Worker Center is open to the public from Monday to Thursday every week from 10 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. The BWA Worker Center’s main role in serving the public is provision of resources and referrals for your job search needs. BWA offers hands on help including preparing résumé and procuring cover letters. They also offer vocational training referrals and wage and hour claim referrals as well as online job search assistance. What is more, the center has provided a set of computers for use by members of the public who would wish for a functional and comfortable office environment as they search for work.
In particular, the BWA Worker Center provides:
- One-on-one consultancy to identify individual needs as well as offer appropriate job referrals
- Help with drafting résumé and obtaining employer cover letters
- Hands on job search assistance with basic elements such as computer proficiency, fuel assistance, professional clothing and even access to mental health services
- Provision of access to a complete computer workstation including functioning printer, telephone, copier and fax machine
- Full access to the regularly updated BWA’s Jobs Binder including relevant upcoming job fairs and online job openings
- Participants also get opportunity of earning the well respected Boston Workers Alliance’s Work Ready Certificate which automatically qualifies them for entry in the Boston Staffing Alliance placement database not to speak of the certificate’s inherent value when included in a résumé.
2. The BWA CORI Clinic
The BWA CORI clinic is a dedicated facility for dealing with all CORI related issues. It offers all the resources you need to understand your rights under the current CORI regimen. The clinic is run by courteous and understanding as well as non-judgmental staff. They will not only help you understand your rights under CORI but also help you navigate through the process of sealing eligible CORI cases. The clinic exists as a demonstration of the Boston Workers Alliance’s commitment to equal rights to work for all.
In summary, the BWA CORI Clinic offers the following services:
- Practical assistance to members of the public in obtaining copies of their CORI
- Analysis of your court record in a bid to help you identify cases you may seal directly and offer you a reasonable estimate of time that is needed to seal certain court records
- Professional legal advice as well as ready access to the necessary paperwork and guidelines for the purposes of sealing eligible criminal records in the state of Massachusetts
- Under auspices of the Greater Boston Legal Services, the union offers legal assistance for all CORI and related labor issues
3. The Boston Staffing Alliance(BSA)
The Boston Staffing Alliance is Boston Workers Alliance’s own not-for-profit staffing and job placement agency. The BSA focuses on both temporary, temp-to-perm and direct placements for socially responsible employers. Since its establishment, the Boston Staffing Alliance has established itself as the go-to placement agency for top companies in the region. Building on its exemplary pedigree, BSA has had to expand beyond Boston and now provides highly qualified professionals and skilled workers not only throughout Massachusetts but also all over the New England Region.
In order to serve both employees and companies seeking for qualified individuals to join their workforce, the Boston Staffing Alliance leverages the latest technologies to offer a flawless service like no other in the sector.
The BWA takes the economic development of its members very seriously. That is why the organization founded the Cooperative Economic Development program which works to incubate a new, community controlled economy that has the wherewithal to meet local needs on top of creating good jobs for the residents. There are many programs in the works under this bold initiative but special mention should be reserved for two flagship programs under the economic development umbrella:
- Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening
- The Boston Recycling Cooperative
Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening
For a couple of years now, the Boston Workers Alliance has been running an Urban Agriculture project. This offers members the opportunity to develop urban farming skills and grow healthy as well as organic food for consumption by the local community. For the success of this project, BWA has carbolated with BNAN (Boston Natural Areas Network) as well as City Growers to implement a successful, profit making cooperative providing healthy and nutritional agricultural produce for the local market.
The Boston Recycling Cooperative
The Boston Recycling Cooperative is an initiative of BWA in close alliance with Mass Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH). This has lead to the formation of a recycling company based in Roxbury/Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. The company is owned and operated in-house by workers of a Latino and African extraction drawn from both organizations. Such a multilingual, multi-cultural cooperation is being heralded as a standard setting development in the green industry. The Boston Recycling Cooperative forms part of the larger Roxbury Green Power run by BWA. It is tasked to collect and recycle vegetable oil which is then reformulated as a green alternative to fossil based diesel fuel. After several months of participatory business planning, the initiative was finally launched in 2013. Other than collecting and recycling vegetable oil, the cooperative is also engaged in the business of recycling metals, organic waste pickup as well as composting.
Campaigns and Organizing
While the Boston Workers Alliance does not consider that the chief objective of the union is to picket and carry out demonstrations, it is also true that their most notable achievements have come on the back of rigorous awareness campaigns. By organizing walks and demonstrations, the organization has captivated the sympathy of locals and also struck a chord with local and international media. This awareness, in a manner of speaking, was a crucial cog in the overwhelmingly successful advocacy for CORI reforms.
Being a member led organization; Boston Workers Alliance’s campaigns have always been determined by the directions the members have desired. Being largely composed of unemployed and underemployed members, the Boston Workers Alliance has been chiefly concerned by the advocacy needs of such members of the community. This will become clear when we take a closer look at the union’s chief campaigns in the present as well as in the past.
Notable Boston Workers Alliance Campaigns
All members of BWA take enormous pride in the successes achieved by the organization in its ten year history. Truth be said, there has been some challenges and disappointments on the way. However, on the main there are many reasons to be proud of our achievements over the years. This running summary of what the Boston Workers Alliance has been able to achieve in that time will serve to illustrate this point.
1. CORI Reform Campaign
The CORI Reform Campaign is the chief cornerstone of the achievements attained by BWA. Since its formation in 2005, the Boston Workers Alliance formed a special committee charged with coordinating a statewide coalition to pass landmark reforms to the Massachusetts’s CORI system.
Looking back over the five years when the CORI Reform Campaign was at its height, there are many reasons to be grateful and optimistic. Massachusetts is the second state in the country to ban the criminal record question from initial job applications, and, as a direct consequence of this, new regulations have narrowed time period that employers can ask about old convictions. CORI reform was accomplished by many dedicated people across the state, and is a real step towards reversing the crisis of over-incarceration, policing and violence in the community.
2. CORI Ordinance Enforcement Campaign
Even having celebrated the passing into law of the comprehensive CORI reform package, the Boston Workers Alliance recognizes that there is more that needs to be done. In the fall of 2015, the CORI Reform Committee announced a new campaign to create opportunities for job seekers with CORI. This was in furtherance of “The Ordinance Regarding CORI”, a landmark CORI ordnance passed by the City of Boston in partnership with community organizations lead by BWA.
In keeping with the Ordinance Regarding CORI document, the City of Boston contracts for goods and services with thousands of vendors. Unless the procurement has to do with a category of goods and services identified as sensitive (those are mainly to do with children, the elderly and disabled as well as handling large amounts of money) the city does not screen the vendors for CORI. Moreover, these vendors are required to have similar hiring practices as the city. The ordnance was so progressive that as of the present, it has been replicated as a national model around the United States.
However, after some preliminary analysis, it has become clear that the ordnance as constituted is inherently weak. It lacks certain features which would lender it effective in the long run. The new campaign being spearheaded by the Boston Workers Alliance seeks the establishment of a comprehensive review process of how the ordnance is being observed in Boston by a variety of vendors doing business with the city authorities. The reforms would also put in place certain sanctions to be placed on vendors if they are found to be in contravention of the existing rules and regulations.
The BWA’s CORI Reform committee is currently canvassing for support for this new initiative. Both individuals and organizations are welcomed to lend a hand in this noble initiative.
3. “Ban the Box” Enforcement Campaign
The Boston Workers Alliance has a been a crucial campaigner of the “Ban the Box” Enforcement initiative organized under the auspices of the National Employment Law Project and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Owing to the initiative of BWA, Massachusetts residents can now report corporations that have the criminal history question on their job applications to the BWA for enforcement.
On the face of it, “Ban the Box” insists that employers should consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a conviction record. As such, this process provides job applicants a fair chance with others they are competing with by removing the question of conviction history on their application on top of delaying any necessary background checks inquiry until much later in the hiring process.
4. Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform
Rather than having a specific campaign or program addressed to the urgent need for criminal justice reform, the Boston Workers Alliance has been dedicated to lobbying local legislative bodies to carry out necessary reforms that prejudice workers and the unemployed going through the courts process. At the moment, BWA is actively working on a strategic plan for a statewide campaign that addresses Massachusetts’s crisis of over-incarceration on top of making sweeping changes to police, parole, probation, and prison practices in the state.
5. Green Collar Jobs Program
In 2008, the Boston Workers Alliance launched its Green Collar Jobs Program in recognition of the increasing prominence of the green economy. Consequently, a dedicated committee was formed and charged with the task of strategizing on campaigns aimed at ensuring the new jobs coming up in the sector were not only CORI friendly but served the aspirations of the community as a whole.
The Green Jobs Committee has had several successful campaigns down the line and special mention is reserved for the Campaign for Home Weatherization as well as the Boston Recycling Coalition.
Campaign for Home Weatherization
At the turn of the century, the Boston Workers Alliance’s green jobs committee embarked on a campaign labeled the Campaign for Home Weatherization. Its main objective was the creation of good green jobs through increased home weatherization opportunities. This was done in collaboration with bodies and individuals committed to technologies and approaches which serve to reduce heating bills as well as lowering global warming pollution.
Boston Recycling Coalition
As a committed partner in the Green Justice Coalition, BWA has been committed to a series of reforms aimed at making the region a much greener and healthier place for people to work, live and raise their families. Of particular importance in the broad objective is the Boston Recycling Coalition initiative. This is a new initiative and collaborative campaign which explores job creation opportunities for the local industries in a bid to increase the city of Boston’s recycling rates in exponential fashion.