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Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.
Anthony Cooper, a lead instructor for Pathways to Apprenticeship, demonstrates fall protection at the Mason Tenders' Training Fund school in Long Island City. Photo by Jeff Rae

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

This story is a collaboration with Mother Jones and Magnum Foundation. We asked photographers to show us the paradox of today’s labor movement. Even as the popularity of unions has grown over the last decade, actual membership has continued to decline. Can new enthusiasm revitalize American labor? Read about this unique moment for workers here.

In New York City, “body shops” target the formerly incarcerated for dangerous and low-wage construction work. (The name stems from the companies’ single function, which is to provide bodies for construction sites.) With few other prospects, the former prisoners often take the jobs. Often, their terms of release require employment.

But, in recent years, construction labor unions have campaigned against these body shops—which undercut union labor. In doing so, they have educated many of the workers they once fought against on their rights to demand better conditions.

In what used to be a conflict, some are seeing an opportunity for organizing. In an effort to respond to community demand for the hiring of workers local to construction projects, longtime union members developed a program called Pathways 2 Apprenticeship. P2A provides people from low-income and justice-affected communities with a paid opportunity to learn about the construction trades and prepare for apprenticeship opportunities.

This photo story highlights one P2A graduate who has become P2A’a lead instructor as well as three additional union members who graduated from P2A, all three of whom originally worked in body shops, two upon returning home from prison.

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Former body shop worker John Simmons speaks to a rally of hundreds of construction workers outside the offices of Consigli Construction in New York City. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Simmons fills out paperwork before he starts his day in lower Manhattan. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Simmons speaks with another Local 79 member outside of New York City Hall before a lunchtime rally. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Simmons in lower Manhattan outside his worksite. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Simmons and his wife, Jennifer, watch television together. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Mahogany Jones, working as a flagger on a major jobsite in Harlem, stages the morning deliveries. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Jones on the job site. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Jones works as a flagger, controlling the flow of traffic to allow workers to do their jobs. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Jones, a former Pathways 2 Apprenticeship graduate and now Laborers Local 79 journey person, speaks to a P2A class. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Jones and her son, Mayor, 7, walk down 125th Street in Harlem. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Jones and Mayor protest outside a non-union construction site in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Pathways 2 Apprenticeship instructor Anthony Cooper leads the class. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Cooper leads Pathways 2 Apprenticeship participants in morning exercises in St. Mary’s Park in the Bronx. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Cooper works with Pathways 2 Apprenticeship students. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Cooper, a lead instructor of P2A, goes shopping in The Mall at Bay Plaza with his family in the Bronx. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Cooper helps students who might otherwise not have a chance for a good job land union gigs in construction. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Graduate James Battle recites his rap that he wrote about his experience in P2A at his graduation on December 13, 2023. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Battle reading the graduation program. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Cooper addresses the graduating P2A class in December 2023. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Bad Jobs Often Follow a Prison Sentence. They Want to Change That.

Graduates of the 2023 P2A class. Photo by Jeff Rae

 

Jeff Rae is a labor activist and photographer.

Co-published with Mother Jones.

Save An Endangered Species: Journalists

Jeff Rae is a labor activist and photographer.

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