In a small factory on Milwaukee’s north side, Ted and Julie McNamara are making a product that fills a special niche, especially at this time of year.
The McNamaras own TJM Innovations, the manufacturer of GutterStuff, a foam filter that is stuffed in rain gutters to keep out debris and help with water flow. With spring rain and melting snow, the McNamaras are busy filling orders for their product, which is sold in stores across the United States and Canada, including Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, True Value and Ace Hardware.
“Things really start picking up about now,” Ted McNamara said.
But as important — maybe more so — as the products they are making, the McNamaras are filling another niche that most employers shy away from.
To help with costs, and to assist people in their neighborhood, most of TJM Innovations’ workforce has come from a state program, Transform Milwaukee Jobs, that subsidizes employee wages for six months in exchange for offering work experience and mentoring.
The program’s participants are low-income and in need of stable employment; some are newly released from prison — a body of workers who have great difficulty finding jobs. Transform Milwaukee Jobs provides a bridge to that stability — and has as its mission increasing child support collection, reuniting parents with their children and helping former foster children attain independent living.
While federal law prohibits discrimination against job seekers based solely on criminal history, employers are permitted to deny work to ex-offenders under some circumstances. A person convicted of theft, for example, could be denied a job where he would handle…