People First history
When and why?
Beginning in the late 1990s, the UMass Dartmouth Labor Education Center convened a group of labor activists, within the umbrella of the Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Labor Council, to talk about doing some work around promoting “good” economic development. At the end of this document are the core principles that the group developed early on and have continued to use to guide our work. Initially, the plan was to sign on community organizations and unions to these principles and they have served as a recruitment tool to get more people involved.
From the beginning, the Community Economic Development Center of SE Massachusetts has been a key partner as well as participation from the two interfaith organizations in SE Mass. Over the years, other organizations have been involved to varying degrees, including the NAACP and YouthBuild, as well as Mass Senior Action.
Generous technical assistance had been provided by Mary Jo Connolly, formerly of Community Labor United and initial economic research was done by Mark Brenner and Stephanie Luce.
Key union participants have been UNITE, the UE, NALC Branch 18, the Amalgamated Transit Workers in Fall River, the Painters, Carpenters, and the Greater SE Mass Labor Council. Leading the effort was UMass Dartmouth Labor Education Center. We developed the following:
People First Principles
Plan for Sustainable Economic Development in SE Massachusetts: Putting the Needs of People and the Environment First
In order to build and secure sustainable and environmentally sound economic development for the 21st century in SE Massachusetts’s communities, development should be rooted in the following principles:
- Significant community and labor voice in shaping development decisions
- Accessible and affordable public transportation
- Environmentally positive development
- Workers have the right to organize without fear or obstacle
- Living and sustainable wage
- Safe and healthy workplace
- Accessible, affordable healthcare
- Accessible, affordable childcare
- Job Benefits include retirement and paid time off, including paid sick and family leave
Economic development policy initiatives must create and retain “good jobs”. These initiatives must have clear goals and employers who benefit from public resources and economic development initiatives must be held accountable to providing good jobs.
Listed below are examples of the projects and events the People First committee has undertaken.
- Our first project was to hold a “Leadership Summit”, which was designed to bring together elected leaders, union activists, community groups, and economic development policy leaders and thinkers. The biggest turnout was from UNITE members and several politicians did attend.
- Another early project was in corporate tax break accountability for job creation. We met with the past Fall River mayor and economic development officers who were leading this effort statewide. However, their strong actions to take on companies who failed at their job creation promises were overturned by state government, although there was a small local victory.
- UMass Lowell, Boston, and Dartmouth facilitated a meeting at UMass Boston to brainstorm between the SE CLC economic development committee and the North Shore CLC economic development committee. Some common ground was addressed with future possibilities discussed.
- People First, with the UMassD Labor Extension coordinator as the leader, planned an economic development conference in New Bedford for 80 people. The three key areas addressed were affordable housing, good jobs for youth, and improving public transportation for access to better jobs. Congressman Barney Frank gave the keynote address and the mayors of Fall River and New Bedford were on a panel. A state representative came to present on the transportation issue. Other experts from around the state provided their expertise in the discussions.
- The People First committee became active in challenging some members of the New Bedford City Council to prevent the demolition of the Cliftex mill, in order to use the building as a scrap warehouse. With that fight and ongoing support through People First involvement in an EPA process, the mill stands, and has been elevated to provide elder housing.
- The People First committee held a hearing to investigate the firing of painters on a building project.
- The UMassD Labor Education Center brought Van Jones to UMassD to discuss labor and green jobs. The event was well attended.
- Several of the People First committee members have participated in various planning meetings and local green job advocacy activities.
- Most important, the relationships build through this effort were key to our transit justice work, which was initiated by People First.