Crenshaw/LAX worker is First Lady’s special guest

Photo: Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

When LeDaya Epps imagines the completed 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX rail line, she will be able to brag to her three children that she helped build it. As one of the few women on the project, Epps is also especially proud that she was born and raised in Compton, a city that will benefit greatly from the new rail line. And now she can also tell her children that through her work, she met President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as their special guest at the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Epps, who sat in First Lady Michelle Obama’s viewing box at the U.S. Capitol, is a living example of Los Angeles County’s innovative hiring policy for construction projects.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Project Labor Agreement and Construction Careers Policy is the first of its kind for a transit agency. It requires that 40 percent of workers hired must come from low-income neighborhoods, and that 10 percent must be disadvantaged – meaning they meet at least two of nine criteria, such as being veterans or homeless or chronically unemployed.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is on Metro’s Board of Directors, has been a leading advocate of innovative hiring policies for Los Angeles County-related construction projects, including the recently completed Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center in Willowbrook where 23-year-old Blair Martin found employment.

A recent analysis determined that $5.9-billion in publicly funded projects in the 2nd Supervisorial District alone have created about 41,000 jobs.

“Nothing uplifts a person more than work,” Ridley-Thomas said. “If we invest in people, they will feel empowered and a part of their community. And that is a win-win.”

Epps, the youngest of 11 children, graduated from high school but did not go on to college. She did not find steady employment until she went to a job fair, met a representative of the LA Black Worker Center, and signed up for a rigorous boot camp to become an apprentice laborer. She was one of only two women who completed the program.

The $2-billion Crenshaw/LAX rail line that Epps is helping to build will connect the Expo and Green Lines near the airport, with eight stations serving the Crenshaw District, Inglewood, and Westchester. Funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax approved by LA County voters, the project is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Epps said she was always interested in construction but never dreamed, as a child growing up in foster care, that she would have the opportunity to work on a project like the Crenshaw/LAX line.

“I always liked building things but, being a woman, I thought this was something I could never do,” Epps said. “Now I’m learning new skills and I’m looking forward to building a career as a laborer and being able to provide for myself and my family.”