On an overcast Wednesday morning, down the street from the Gun Hill housing projects, Councilman Andy King was offering something very different from his neighbors, the check cashing store and the pawn shop – he was offering jobs.
By 10:30 a.m., King’s office was bustling with clipboards and job seekers looking to apply as drivers for CareRide Paratransit and GVC II, two companies that contract with the New York City’s Access-A-Ride program, which provides transportation to the handicapped and elderly of New York City.
Sherron Shannon, 58, was the first man in line on Wednesday morning. He heard about the job fair from his pastor. “It got me interested because I’m looking for a job,” he said. “I’m not only a driver but also a technician.” Shannon has been looking for a job for 4 months. He is from the Caribbean, and lives in the Bronx with his wife and son. “I’m very excited about today,” he said after his interview.
King said he organized the job session to address high unemployment in his district in the North Bronx. “Instead of sending people all over the place, let me just have people come here,” he said, “which helps the neighborhood a whole lot more.” This personalized kind of job session is relatively new for King – he has only done one other before.
Gun Hill is mostly black, with many Caribbean immigrants and working families. King said that he expected around 100 people to show up throughout the day, and possibly more. In the mostly male crowd, some applicants wore suits and ties while others wore T-shirts and hoodies.
King’s office advertised for the event through social media, announcements in churches, community meetings and text messages. When the office opened at 8:30 a.m., there were already people waiting.
Stephanie Rosario, a 25-year-old mother of two, has been looking for a job for 5 months. She heard the announcement when she was getting her kids ready for school.
Qualified Access-A-Ride drivers must be over 21, have less than four points on their license, and have no DUI or DWI convictions within the past 5 years. For candidates who were unprepared, King’s office invited the Urban League to counsel job seekers.
Steve Orlanski from CareRide said that the company has a staff of around 250 people, and operates 120 vehicles. They are offering 40 full-time positions and 20 part-time positions. During a mandatory two-week training, new drivers are paid $10 an hour, and, depending on experience, the wage starts at around $11 an hour, with a few raises in the first year, and annual raises thereafter. The job includes benefits, paid sick leave and health insurance.
GVC II’s project manager David Silva said that he’s looking to hire about 20 full-time drivers and five part-time drivers. GVC II drivers are part of the 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union, and also get benefits. He says that dealing with New York City traffic isn’t for everyone – there is a driver turnover rate of around 20 percent.
“You have to be able to deal with people and keep calm and listen to our customers,” said Silva. “Some of our customers are elderly, and they just need to tell a story. And if you’re a good listener and you participate, you’re a great driver.
Jobs at places like GVC II and CareRide are often stepping-stones to bigger transportation opportunities with the MTA, which has a waiting list for open positions.
Jason Malloy, 32, lives in Coop City, about 20 minutes away from King’s office in the Bronx. He has been looking for work since March. “It’s extremely difficult,” he said. “I just printed out some fresh résumés today, and made sure that everything is updated, just so I can present myself in a professional manner.”