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(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Thomas Giblin, Daniel Benson and Annette Quijano that would help out-of-work former military personnel find jobs in the construction industry was granted final legislative approval 76-0 by the Assembly on Monday.
"Young men and women are going to war, serving their country, and coming home to a civilian life without a job," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "With post-9/11 veteran unemployment numbers still hovering near 10 percent, we owe these fine men and women more than just a handshake and a welcome home, we owe them an opportunity to gain employment."
According to the federal Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the total number of unemployed veterans continued to decline in September, post Gulf War II veterans - the men and women returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - are facing an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, well above the national average.
"Making a successful transition from military life back into the civilian workforce can be difficult in the best of economic times," said Giblin (D-Essex), a former Air National Guard member. "For the current crop of vets, coming home to 10 percent unemployment may seem daunting or overwhelming, especially if it seems like meaningful help is unavailable."
The measure (A-2014) would require the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to establish a "Helmets to Hardhats" pilot program, which would help New Jersey military personnel and veterans acquire highway construction jobs.
Under the bill, the Turnpike Authority would be required to guarantee that at least five percent and not more than 20 percent of the projected labor hours on any highway project are awarded to contractors who would be required to employ workers from an apprenticeable trade participating in the pilot program, as certified by the New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council. It also would require that these workers be paid the prevailing wage during their employment.
"Returning vets - many of whom have acquired specialized, transferable skills during their military service - aren't looking for a handout or a free ride," said Benson (D-Mercer). "At the end of the day, they're just looking for honest work and a livable wage. And this bill presents an opportunity to give them both, as a way of saying thank you for their service."
"Our veterans have endured their share of challenges; trying to find a job should not be one of them," said Quijano (D-Union). "We owe it to them to make the employment process as simple and straightforward as possible, so that they can comfortably transition to the next chapter in their lives."
The pilot program would run for 18 months, during which the Turnpike Authority would evaluate: what impact, if any, the program has on providing former military personnel with jobs; and what impact the program would have on the cost of highway construction projects.
Six months after the end of the pilot program's run, the Turnpike Authority would be required to submit their findings in reports to both the governor and the Legislature.
The measure now heads to the Governor's desk.
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