No doubt casino workers who thought they'd be out of a job when their bus service was slated to end last month were relieved to learn that it would continue through December.
When I met with employees on Hartford's Main Street a while back, they were in a panic. A few had cars, but nowhere near the money needed for the gas or upkeep it would take to make the 100-mile round trip between their homes in Greater Hartford to jobs at the state's two casinos.
"There's just no way," said Beatrice Jackson, a $9.33-an-hour housekeeper at the Two Trees Inn at Foxwoods Resort Casino.
They talked to their bosses. To legislators. To people at the Capitol Region Council of Governments, which runs the transportation program for the state Department of Social Services.
But it didn't look good.
They considered alternatives, but all were more expensive than the $60 a month they pay for the subsidized commuter bus many have taken for decades.
No matter how they looked at it, one thing seemed inevitable: Without affordable transportation, they literally couldn't afford to stay employed.
And everyone knew it. In a letter informing them that "the governor has suspended the funding," the Capitol Region Council of Governments directed workers to CT Works, a one-stop career center.
Translation: Good luck finding one of those elusive jobs out there.
By the time I talked to DSS spokesperson David Dearborn, casino workers were told funding was available to extend the program until December.
Good news – with a catch. Actually, lots of catches.
DSS directed CRCOG to negotiate a better rate with Peter Pan, to increase awareness and ridership of the service. Dearborn also said they weren't sure their target audience was actually using the bus.
As I told him, I didn't conduct an official survey when I met with employees one morning. But all the people I spoke to seemed to be eligible riders. Low-income, long-term casino employees from the Hartford area, most from the city, who were making modest wages in service jobs.
They were housekeepers, cooks, maintenance workers. All hardworking people who show up bright and early for that bus in order to afford their first homes, support their children and grandchildren, and just pay the bills. All who want nothing more than to work for a living.
"We have a lot of good people here who just want to be able to work,'' said David Michaud, another casino employee.
Dearborn said the reality is that budgets are tight, and with the program costing $300,000 a year for about 45 employees, it's necessary to evaluate its affordability. Fair enough – every city and state department has been forced to cut back. Maybe they could use a smaller bus. They should definitely start promoting the service to people looking for work. And it also wouldn't hurt the casinos to kick in some money to help keep workers they need.
But consider the millions that the state routinely throws at big companies to keep jobs – just recently $3 million to Frito-Lay, another $3 million proposed for Oakleaf Waste Management – and sorry, the logic here just doesn't add up.
How many times do we hear the governor and every politician running for office these days talk about jobs? Creating jobs. Keeping jobs. Putting the state's 169,000 unemployed residents back to work.
These workers aren't asking for a handout. They want to work; they just need an affordable way to get there.
A four-month reprieve is a good start. But come on, there's got to be a permanent solution to help these hardworking employees keep the jobs they already have.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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