WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's proposal to let businesses train the unemployed without having to pay them is "a no-go proposition" for at least one big employer.
President Obama's "Bridge to Work" plan would allow people on unemployment insurance to spend up to eight weeks as unpaid trainees at participating employers in hopes of learning new skills or getting hired. The program would be voluntary for businesses and trainees.
Recruiter Chris McConnell testified before a House subcommittee Thursday that AlliedBarton Security Services, a security guard supplier with more than 50,000 employees across the U.S., would not want to participate.
"For AlliedBarton, these types of programs where somebody is training with us while receiving UI are a no-go proposition," McConnell said. "Legally, we can't have anybody standing post as a security officer unless we employ them. I would imagine that we aren't alone in this sense."
Bridge to Work would be problematic for AlliedBarton in more than just a legal sense. "We'e also very conscious of equity in the workplace," McConnell said. "We want to treat all of our employees with the same set of rules and employment conditions."
The White House has pushed its Bridge to Work program over labor objections because it is popular with Republicans currently standing in the way of the president's $450 billion jobs bill. Bridge to Work would only be open to jobless workers receiving federal unemployment benefits that kick in after six months of state benefits have run out. The president's jobs bill would reauthorize the federal benefits, which are set to expire in January. Republicans have said, however, that they'd be happy to encourage states to implement Bridge to Work without reauthorizing the federal benefits.
Bridge to Work is modeled on state schemes like Georgia Works, which labor advocates have long decried as exploitive and which have not been proven to put the jobless back to work. The programs have been popular with businesses because they reduce hiring costs.
But not every business. McConnell testified that he is familiar with various government programs designed to encourage hiring because AlliedBarton fills a ton of entry-level positions that states find useful for reemployment services. He said wage subsidies, which are also part of the administration's American Jobs Act, would be a much better way to boost employment.
"From a straight business standpoint we like employing people. We want to hire them. We want to pay them. We want them to be accountable to us as employees," McConnell said in an interview with HuffPost. "Generally speaking, it also can be a tricky human resources dynamic to have people doing similar types of work and some are paid, some are unpaid, some are still on unemployment. That's not a clean recipe for a happy workforce."
CLARIFICATION: McConnell is an independent contractor, not a spokesman for AlliedBarton. A company spokesman said that McConnell has consulted with AlliedBarton in the past, but was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. The spokesman said the company is supportive of programs that put unemployed Americans back to work and that AlliedBarton is currently reviewing the proposed Bridge to Work plan.
Arthur Delaney is the author of "A People's History of the Great Recession," HuffPost's first e-book.
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