The Job Club King
of the International Labor Communications Award for investigative Journalism
Santa Barbara County workers in the city of Lompoc, ran a model GAIN Job Club program. until Curtis and Associates came to town.
Social worker Carlos Campos was proud of his part in the Lompoc GAIN program. Even his supervisors referred to him by his nick name, “the Job Club King.” Campos researched other GAIN and employment training projects, both public and private, borrowing ideas wherever he found them.
“I felt like I was really reaching people, like I was really affecting someone’s life,” Campos stated. “That is a tremendous feeling. I felt like a true teacher, imparting knowledge that changed people’s lives. We dealt with real life issues. We didn’t play games. We talked about welfare reform. We talked about being on welfare and the stereotypes about welfare recipients. We talked about absentee parents, and about poverty. I would tell them, ‘Look this is where you are at now. You need to make a major life change. You have to take some steps to move up on the economic scale.’ I showed them charts and figures and then explained how to use the system. I would tell them, ‘Get a job, a 16-hour job, and continue in GAIN, so you can get a vocational assessment. Then get your education and training so that you can be better prepared in your life. That way, when welfare cuts you off, you won’t be left with just a series of little entry level jobs. You will have some skills and a certificate to show that you’ve been trained—then you have some control over your life.’
“Our goal was to really give them the tools to deal with their lives after they were off of welfare. We talked about how employers really are, that many times you have to fake it and pretend you really like these people. I was down to earth, and that is why we really bonded. Clients wanted to attend our program.”
“I called it an Employment Readiness Seminar—‘job club’ was too Mickey Mouse. I wanted the program to be more businesslike. I warned them, ‘You are really going to have to work in this class! I would teach them about economics and current events. Then we would have real graduations with diplomas. People would cry, and they would write me letters about how their lives were changed and the jobs they got.”
Empowering people in need, especially those on welfare, is something Campos is passionate about. His parents were on welfare, and his first experience with the system was as a child accompanying his mother to the welfare office. “Those were the days before we offered bilingual services, so I was the translator.” He also accompanied his neighbors and anyone else in the community who needed help. From those early childhood experiences he knew what he wanted to do with his life. In 1974 he started working as a social service aide and an eligibility worker and then eventually became a children’s protective services worker in 1981. At first he was reluctant to transfer from children’s protective services, until he saw how much a job training program could do to help people out of poverty. “To me, being a social worker is about administering social justice to the poor. That is why I am a social worker, a professional people helper. In the United States we should take care of each other, like a family. We are the richest country in the world; there is no excuse for people suffering in poverty.”
When a client applies for aid and enters the system, it is an opportunity for the GAIN social worker to intervene, assess the client, and provide services to fix the problems that are blocking the client from fully functioning in society. “If we just push people back out there without addressing the problems, we’re creating a permanent underclass,” Campos stated.
From 1994 to 1996 over 730 people got jobs through the Lompoc GAIN office and Campos’s class. Clients were able to get into training programs and landed jobs ranging from office worker to licensed vocational nurse. “I took my granddaughter in for a check-up a few months ago, and one of the nurses came up to me. ‘Hi, remember me,’ she said, ‘you helped put me through school, and now I’m a nurse,’” Campos recalls with pride.
“I was really hurt when they took the program away, and gave it to people who weren’t even trained social workers. I had that room so designed with motivational materials on the walls, every little space had a vital piece of information, a chart, news articles, hand outs, you name it. I’ll never forget that day I had to move out. I had to take everything down from the wall so that Curtis could put up their little plastic clichés. I worried about what will happen to the clients. It was really traumatic. ”
The Curtis Barrage
“It started with a seminar at the University of California at Santa Barbara about doing assessments,” Campos remembers. Dean Curtis was one of the guest presenters in a workshop the county asked workers to attend. “He had a few good ideas, but nothing you could build a comprehensive program around.” The workers were shocked when they found that Curtis was proposing to take over the county program, spearheaded by Department of Social Services Director Charlene Chase and Deputy Director Robert Montgomery.
“Charlene is a real visionary. She was talking about private-public partnerships even back then. That was before welfare reform. She was really ahead of the curve,” one of her supporters commented about her performance. But “silver tongued devil” was the way other workers described her.
Chase invited members of the business community to form the Business Advisory Team and had Dean Curtis make a presentation to them. BAT’s function was to sway public opinion in favor of Curtis and Associates and to speak out at board of supervisors meetings to counter the protests by her department’s workers.
“Why fix something that isn’t broke?” the workers asked in a letter sent to the board of supervisors signed by 17 of the 18 GAIN workers. (The only worker who didn’t sign the protest was promoted to management.) The workers put together their own proposals and presented them to the board.
Despite protests, the county contracted with Curtis, first as a consultant, then to run a pilot project in the city of Santa Maria. After the pilot, Curtis was awarded a contract to run components of the GAIN project throughout Santa Barbara County. The private company receives approximately $1 million annually from the county.
Santa Barbara County workers fought Curtis every step of the way. Doing their own analysis and review of statistics, the workers challenged claims made by the department about Curtis’s success rate. Board meetings got quite heated, according to Campos, and the department responded by restricting workers from using their break time or vacation time to attend the board meetings.
Not only was the department director pushing Curtis, but Curtis hired a former county supervisor, Diane Owens, who made presentations with Chase to her former colleagues on the board. After receiving the contract, Curtis promoted Owens to vice-president of the Curtis western region. Campos was finally told that even if his program was better, it didn’t matter because Curtis was cheaper.
A management person we spoke with acknowledged that the county workers could easily have incorporated some of the Curtis methods into their program, and perhaps Curtis should have been hired for a few training seminars instead of to run the program. So why did the board favor them? “There was a hiring freeze and it was much easier to get the board to approve contracting with a private contractor than to hire more county employees.”