Administration Touts Another Corporate Partnership for Jobs

Home Depot Inc., the do-it-yourself mega-store, is partnering with the Bush administration to help place tens of thousands of post-Sept. 11 unemployed workers in jobs at the retail giant's stores across the country, the Labor Department announced Wednesday.

"The president and I are very committed to getting displaced workers back to work," Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao told reporters in a conference call.

Home Depot will use 1,800 existing "One-Stop Career Centers" — federally funded state and local employment offices — across the country to hire for thousands of existing job vacancies, and for the 150,000 new slots it expects to have when the company embarks on its upcoming four-year expansion.

"I think it's obviously a win-win situation," said Dennis Donavan, executive vice president for human resources for Home Depot. "We are growing, our expansion over the next four years will involve 150,000 new hires, 40,000 in the leadership ranks."

The Bush administration says it is trying to put back to work some 1.1 million people who lost their jobs due to the Sept. 11 attacks and concurrent economic recession. It has also been spending time announcing partnerships with private industry in light of its proposal for welfare reform reauthorization.

President Bush's welfare-to-work proposal, a version of which has been passed by the House and faces tough challenges in the Senate, would require states to put to work 70 percent of its welfare cases in 40-hour-a-week jobs, a provision that has drawn fire from anti-welfare reform groups and Democrats who want vocational training to meet the requirement.

On Monday, Bush hosted a welfare-to-work event at the White House in which he praised the United Parcel Service for its good corporate citizenship in working with local and state entities to find jobs for welfare recipients. Labor officials said on Wednesday that it will soon announce a new partnership with Toys "R" Us as well.

"[It] will help people find jobs and restore dignity to their lives," Chao said of the Home Depot deal Wednesday.

Since 2000, One-Stop Career Centers have provided resume resources, job search databases, access to job postings, and other employment services. While there are 1,800 in existence today, officials say they are growing.

Donovan said Home Depot will work with these centers to help place workers in jobs that range from entry-level lot attendants to managers, earning 5 percent to 15 percent over local retail wage averages. He said both full- and part-time workers get health benefits at Home Depot and about 5 percent of the total workforce are former welfare recipients.

"I think this is proof positive of what you can do when you develop a connection with the government in this area," he said.

Home Depot is sticking by its hearty expansion plans despite stiff competition from its competitor, Lowe's Companies Inc., which this year broke the $1 billion mark in net earnings, while Home Depot experienced a 14 percent plunge in its stock price during the last week of May alone.

Regardless, Donovan said workers can expect solid positions at Home Depot with room to move up on the ladder, a contrast to complaints by welfare reform critics who say people are systematically moved off the rolls into low-paying jobs with no benefits.

Critics said Wednesday that the Labor Department's announcement barely scratches the surface of what is needed in the job market today.

"Of course we support corporations that hire former welfare recipients," said Jason Dring, a spokesman for the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, "but the truth is, most people who have been forced off of the rolls since 1996 don't go into good paying jobs with benefits and they are often in and out of those jobs."

State welfare rolls have been reduced 56 percent since reforms were enacted in 1996.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.