Beep endorses LCC plan for Willets Pt. workers

By Stephen Stirling

LaGuardia Community College presented its plan to relocate and retrain Willets Point workers to the Flushing Chamber of Commerce Tuesday afternoon, eliciting strong praise from Borough President Helen Marshall, who then blasted groups she believes have been getting in the way.

LaGuardia Assistant Dean of Adult and Continuing Education Seth Bornstein said he hopes the school, recently tapped by the city to implement a retraining program for Willets Point's more than 1,400 workers, will officially sign a contract with the city in the coming weeks to get the ball rolling on its plan.

Bornstein said LaGuardia's workforce program will center around outreach and analysis of the workers' skills to better help the school retrain and ultimately find them permanent and more lucrative jobs. He said the program will establish a strong precedent for city involvement in such projects going forward.

"In terms of the city funding a workforce program for a private development, this is pretty innovative and we're pretty proud of that," Bornstein said.

Marshall said Bornstein, the borough president's former director of economic development, "gives the project teeth" and added that she is positive the program will help save workers from what she called "horrible working conditions" that currently exist at Willets Point.

Marshall also accused affordable housing groups that have been advocating for worker's rights during the last several months of preventing the city and her office from reaching out to workers at Willets Point, but said she believes the unnamed groups have shifted their focus to the city Department of Housing.

"We took that element out of it that was really clogging up the works," she said.

ACORN and the Pratt Center for Community Development, both of which have appeared on the workers' behalf, could not be reached by press time for comment.

Bornstein said LaGuardia hopes to take a multi-faceted approach to its planned program by creating an on-site office that will help recruit workers for the program, where they will receive stipends and will have personalized attention and full access to all services of LaGuardia's School for Adult and Continuing Education.

Bornstein said LaGuardia expects to begin posting jobs for outreach coordinators once the contract is finalized with the city later this month.

The city is currently undergoing the public review process for its multibillion-dollar redevelopment plan to transform Willets Point into a sprawling mixed-use community. The fate of the workers currently in Willets Point has been a point of contention among many in the City Council, who will ultimately decide the plan's fate when they vote on it in the coming months.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.