By Stephen Stirling
A handful of workers protested LaGuardia Community College’s cityâˆ’commissioned workforce retraining program in Long Island City Friday afternoon, calling on Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city Economic Development Corp. to divert $2.5 million set aside for the education project to cover relocation expenses for more than 200 tenant businesses at Willets Point.
But the EDC pushed back, contending the cityâˆ’funded program is voluntary, only meant to benefit workers who seek out its services and called any attempt to sway people away from enrolling “disgraceful.”
About a halfâˆ’dozen workers held signs and handed out letters blasting LaGuardia and the city for pursuing the retraining program, which as of last month had not registered any students.
Willets Point Defense Committee Vice President Sergio Aguirre said the funding the city set aside for the program should be added to the city’s promised $3 million relocation assistance fund, which he called meager at best.
“This program is useless to us,” Aguirre said. “Where are the jobs that these workers are going to get? People everywhere are looking for work. Ninety percent of these guys don’t even have citizenship papers. This solution is not realistic.”
But EDC spokesman David Lombino said it is unfair to protest a free, voluntary program set up by a reputable educational institution designed with the workers of Willets Point’s needs in mind.
“This is disgraceful. The tenant businesses are looking to pocket the money that NYCEDC has set aside to help train workers and in doing so they’re preventing LaGuardia College from doing this important work,” Lombino said. “To protest a free program that aims to help willing workers earn their high school diploma, learn English and get help on immigration issues makes no sense whatsoever.”
Officials at LaGuardia could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by eâˆ’mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 138.