Shaq helps launch program to help Newarkers find construction project work

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on December 15, 2015

Shaquille O'Neal addresses the crowed gathered at a press conference held by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in the rotunda of City Hall where he announced a new jobs program, "Impact Newark," which calls for the increase of minorities, women and veterans participation in unions, and also calls for increasing their access to construction jobs. NewarkS

NEWARK – Not long ago, the prospect of a $55-per-hour job seemed little more than a pipe dream to Eric Rollins. Today, however, the 35-year-old lifelong Newark resident can see a clear path to just that.

Rollins is among a small pool of applicants for "Project IMPACT" – a program officially launched today by city leaders and NBA great Shaquille O'Neal that aims to help Newarkers land a spot in local labor unions.

"Everybody in Newark knows it's not really easy to find a good paying job," he said. "$55 an hour? That's unbelievable. It would change my life drastically."

Working with the city's Office of Affirmative Action, Rollins and other applicants will receive guidance on obtaining their GED, preparing for aptitude tests and developing other skills designed to earn them a card with local plumbing, carpentry and construction unions.

"No matter how much of a foundation we lay out...unless we prepare them for what's to come, none of our efforts will work," said Deputy Mayor for Employment Rahaman Muhammad. 

Thanks to a partnership with O'Neal and New Brunswick-based Boraie Development, many of those who do secure jobs will end up working on the highly anticipated but long-delayed construction of "One Riverview" – a 23-story mixed-use tower planned for downtown.

Rehabilitation work recently began on the tower's future home on Rector Street, but will need hundreds of hands as work moves closer to completion.

Baraka and other officials noted that they have emphasized putting Newarkers to work since taking office last year, passing legislation requiring contractors to hire a certain number of residents and working with prisoner re-entry programs to help find them steady, legitimate income - often on the various construction projects springing up around the city.

"When Newark becomes a great and beautiful city as is happening before our very eyes, the residents can benefit too," he said.

O'Neal, who has thrown his backing behind multiple development projects in Newark through his partnership with Boraie, said he planned to move into the tower's top floor after it was completed as a symbol of his enduring commitment to his hometown.

"Newark made me who I am. I just love this city. I've been coming back here since 1995,' he said. "I'll be here."

The local legend was not alone in his aspirations, however, as Rollins too admitted he hoped to one day lay his head in the tower he might help build.

"That'd be beautiful. It'll definitely be a step up for Newark residents," he said. "I'd be living proof."

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