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Missouri AFL-CIO launches initiative aimed at workforce development, mental health


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri AFL-CIO is launching a new initiative designed to improve diversity, mental health, and economic opportunities for Missouri’s workforce. 

The Missouri Works Initiative is a four-pronged approach focused on connecting Missourians with new opportunities through training, networking, and health information. 

Greta Bax, executive director of the initiative, said she was excited to work with AFL-CIO President Jake Hummel and Secretary-Treasurer Merri Berry to address the full spectrum of workers’ needs. 

“When people hear about the AFL-CIO, they mostly know about the political and lobbying arm of organized labor. As we were forming an affiliate organization, it was the goal of Jake and Merri to support every piece of a worker’s life,” Bax told The Missouri Times. “We as an organization care about making sure that we’re having a positive impact on all working Missourians and in order to do that, you have to be willing to meet the challenge and take on some of these workforce initiatives.” 

The Dislocated Worker Program helps laid-off union employees apply for unemployment benefits and receive free training opportunities. The team currently offers a workshop on transitioning between jobs and peer counseling services alongside the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development (DHEWD). AFL-CIO has hosted the program for more than 20 years, and it will now be handled under the new initiative. 

The initiative also offers a Worker Wellness Program (WPP) focused on providing information on mental health and workplace wellness challenges. WPP plans to collaborate with local agencies to tailor its programs to specific communities. Dr. John Gaal, a certified wellness practitioner who previously served as the training director for the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, directs the program. 

Building Union Diversity (BUD) St. Louis is dedicated to expanding access to the construction industry and creating a more diverse workforce. Active since 2014, Bax said the five-week education program had served more than 250 St. Louis residents, touting a 90 percent graduation rate and sending 81 percent of graduates straight into construction jobs upon completion of the program. It also hosts a graduation event where workers can network and interview for jobs with prospective employers. 

The Missouri Apprentice Ready Program, the newest arm of the initiative, is expected to offer its first classes later this year. Another five-week course offered in Kansas City and Springfield in collaboration with DHEWD, the effort will align with Gov. Mike Parson’s goal of growing the state’s workforce and having 20,000 participants in training programs by 2025. The program will be bolstered through a $1 million federal investment. 

“Missouri Works Initiative is uniquely positioned to take on the role of expanding pre-apprenticeship programs statewide because of its partnerships and connections across Missouri with organized labor, registered apprenticeship program coordinators, contractors, and employers,” said Hummel. “I am excited to expand upon the years of success the AFL-CIO has achieved for workers.”

With some programs already producing results and new efforts on the horizon, Bax said the group looked forward to expanding the initiative with new programs and offering additional assistance to Missouri’s workforce in the future. 

“It’s a unique opportunity to have a more specific impact on workforce development,” Bax said. “We bring a lot of expertise and a lot of good folks are taking on these challenges. We’ll see how things grow and change over time, but we’ll be laser-focused on providing economic opportunities for all Missourians.”