Supporters of Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria are scrambling to undo the proposed elimination of several programs in a contract to operate the workforce training campus.
The U.S. Department of Labor contracts with private companies to operate around 130 job corps centers providing workforce training for low-income students between the ages of 16 and 24. Management and Training Corp. has operated Tongue Point since 1989.
Most contracts last three to five years. The Department of Labor recently opened the contract for operation of Tongue Point up to proposals.
The new contract would begin in October and keep the center at 473 students. But the initial contract would have stopped the use of 15 World War II-era houses on Tongue Point by staff and their families. It would also eliminate culinary and two different office administration programs, while cutting enrollment in the medical assisting program in half and reducing the geographic area from which the center can draw students.
Representatives with the Department of Labor were not immediately available for comment. Tita Montero, a Seaside city councilor and the former community liaison at Tongue Point, has been part of an effort reaching out to local, state and federal legislators to rescind the cuts.
“We wanted to let people know in this economy where there’s almost no housing to be had, that if that contract continued not to have housing on Tongue Point, that would be putting 15 families into an economy that would not be able to absorb them,” Montero said.
The efforts led to an amended contract proposal that included staff housing. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley called the inclusion great news for the staff at Tongue Point.
“While we still have work to do, this immediate housing security is an important first step,” the Oregon Democrat said in a statement. Tongue Point “is a community asset, and we’ll continue working to make sure (Department of Labor) supports the center and its students.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said, “Tongue Point has proven for decades on the North Coast how to train young people for good jobs, and I’m gratified after hearing constituent concerns about the Trump administration’s cut of on-campus housing that I was able to help this community mainstay.
“That housing is essential for Tongue Point’s ongoing success, and I’ll continue working with the U.S. Labor Department to restore all the offerings needed for job corps students to keep succeeding in this vital program.”
The amended contract proposal still would eliminate Tongue Point’s culinary, medical office management and office administration trades. The slots available for students wanting to study medical assisting would be cut in half.
“One of the reasons that we’ve heard was because those trades … people don’t go out and get high-paying jobs automatically when they leave Tongue Point training,” Montero said. “They’re the lower-paying trades.”
Montero argued that many culinary students go into the workforce and receive further training on the job, while trades like office management and medical assisting are always in demand. Office trades are also more prevalent among women and members of the LGBT groups, she said.
“We’ve had quite a few students from Tongue Point who end up going to a job in the admitting department at (Columbia Memorial Hospital), jobs at Providence (Seaside Hospital),” she said. “Medical assistants are kind of at a premium. So it doesn’t make sense to cut those trades.”
Montero also raised concern about a proposal in the new contract to reduce the recruitment area of Tongue Point from most of the Pacific Northwest to almost entirely from Oregon, despite the center having to maintain 473 students.
“If you cut back where you’re attracting from, and you cut back the choices people have in what they want to learn, there is no way you can stay at that (473) level,” she said. “… And, on top of that, if you don’t maintain that, they will penalize you. So it’s almost like setting it up to fail.”
Potential operators have until Thursday to turn in proposals to the Department of Labor. But if backers can gain enough support to rescind the cuts, Montero said, the contract could be further amended and the search for a new operator extended.