By Sahid Fawaz
"In an age of automation and continued legislative efforts to stymie their rights, labor unions are down but not out.
As Haverhill battles a growing problem of gang violence, city leaders are enlisting the help of local unions to provide mentors and guidance to at-risk youth, to keep them on a path to the middle class instead of jail — or worse.
Mayor James Fiorentini said he has spoken to representatives from local laborers and carpenters unions about opportunities they may be willing to offer kids in the city who are involved with, or could potentially become involved with gangs, in the coming years.
'Just to see how we can get kids into jobs. We've had great discussions," Fiorentini said, he's also had talks with area nonprofits on how to reduce the influence of gangs on kids.
"The one thing I've gotten clearly ... is that kids in gangs are not employed,' the mayor said.
Michael Gagliardi, business manager of Laborers Local 175, said he and other local trade unions have spoken with the city about showing young adults in high schools a way out of inner-city environments where gangs often fester.
'The talks have been good,' said Gagliardi, whose union has more than 1,000 dues-paying members working in construction throughout the Merrimack Valley. 'We want to show inner city youth that there are opportunities to earn a living and own a home, get a pension and take vacations away from violence and crime.
'For some of these kids, that's all they see,' he added.
As the city's gang problem has worsened — the Acre neighborhood saw five gang-related shootings between July and September this year — Fiorentini has leaned heavily on the experiences of former gang members who have turned their lives around and are now living productive lives.
Estimates on how many gang members live in the city range from a low of 200 up to 375 gang members.
When asked how many people in his local union group are former gang members, Gagliardi said it is a difficult figure to quantify, but that the local draws a number of workers from urban centers like Lawrence and Haverhill.
'We're passionate about the cities where our workers live, and we want kids to know they haven't been forgotten by the cities where they live,' said Gagliardi."
For the rest of the story, check out the piece in the Haverhill Gazette here.