DOWNTOWN — The Chicago Transit Authority and one of its top unions have agreed to extend a contentious apprentice program for ex-offenders, addicts and victims of spousal abuse to clean train cars.
The Amalgamated Transit Union had originally sought to end the program with the new year, but after weeks of negotiations it agreed with the CTA to reinstate it for 65 people this year. It rejoins a similar program for cleaning buses that employs 200 apprentices.
The program is meant to provide a pathway for ex-offenders to rehabilitate themselves, but according to the CTA it has also led to 76 apprentices being hired to full-time positions at the transit agency.
"We are pleased to work with ATU Local 308 to bring back a program that has helped literally hundreds of people in need,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool in a statement issued Thursday.
Claypool said the program "provides benefits to our transit customers by supplementing the cleaning work of our permanent crews, but also provides a great benefit to our society. "
By getting ex-offenders into the workforce, he said, "the CTA is able to help Chicagoans increase self-sufficiency and reduce recidivism."
"We were able to reach an agreement, one that benefits everyone involved, including the riding public," said union local President Robert Kelly. "I believe this is a win-win situation and we can now move forward."
Claypool added that "both sides agree that this program is valuable in many ways to both workers and customers, and is worth continuing in 2014 and beyond."
The program is considered one of the largest ex-offender retraining efforts in the nation, and has provided job opportunities to more than 800 ex-offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes, individuals completing drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation programs, victims of domestic abuse and others.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) cited the program last year in urging the city to allow convicted felons to remain eligible for positions driving horse-drawn carriages, and he cheered the reinstatement Thursday.
"They served their time," he said of ex-offenders. "We need to reincorporate them into the mainstream of society, give them an opportunity to take care of their families."
The issue is dear to Burnett, in part, because he's an ex-offender himself for taking part in an armed robbery as a teenager. Yet he too served his time, and eventually won a pardon after being elected alderman.
"That's the cure for crime, is jobs," Burnett added.