The AFL-CIO and allied groups have held actions in 50 cities urging extension of unemployment benefits set to begin expiring in January. Six million could lose their lifelines next year if there is no emergency extension of federal benefits that supplement state benefits that usually run out after 26 weeks.
Over 43 percent of the unemployed have been out of work more than six months – the highest in 60 years of keeping records — and for every job opening there are over four workers seeking a job.
Thus, maintaining the lifeline of benefits, amounting to an average of $295 a week, is urgent.
Most of the events involved visits to offices of Republican lawmakers and many included prayer vigils, rallies, marches and petitions.
In Ohio, where 57,900 stand to lose benefits, actions were held at the offices of Sen. Rob Portman in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, House Speaker John Boehner in West Chester and Rep. Steve LaTourette in Painesville. All are Republicans.
State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Petee Talley led a delegation to Portman’s office in Columbus and presented information on the crisis to his representative, who was non-committal on supporting a benefit extension.
Dino Desantos, LaTourette’s spokesman, told the group in Painesville that LaTourette would support a bill to extend benefits that would be introduced this week. However, the bill, he said, would be tied to issues sought by the GOP. Press reports indicate this would include expediting construction of the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline to bring crude oil from Canada to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. Pres. Barack Obama has threatened to veto action on the pipeline until a report is issued on the environmental impact of the project.
As in Jackson, Michigan, Charleston, S.C. and other cities, the action in Cleveland included the Occupy Movement. A rally of about 50 people gathered in Public Square where the Occupiers have a tent.
John Sasala, a young unemployed worker, taking part in Occupy Cleveland since mid-October, said the movement “has changed my life.
“We can’t give up the fight. If we continue to come together, we will win.”
Earlier that week, Occupy Cleveland got a resounding vote of confidence in a City Council Resolution that passed 18-1.
Brenton Sample, a 25-year old unemployed African-American union Iron Worker and lifelong Cleveland resident said he had never seen things so bad in the city.
“I’m a hard worker,” he said, “but the opportunities are just not there. If they cut off my unemployment benefits, I won’t be able to use the RTA to get to a job. I have two kids. I need help. People are going to starve. This is real.”
The group then marched to the Federal Building chanting “We Are the 99 per cent” and “What Do We Want – Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.”
The demonstrators signed a letter to Portman asking his support to extend benefits and sent a delegation to the Senator’s office. Harriet Applegate, Executive Secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, said the labor movement was also asking for passage of the American Jobs Act, which would create 1.9 million jobs, including 50,000 in Ohio, mainly in construction, but also maintain employment for teachers and first responders in local and state governments facing budget shortfalls.
The bill would be paid for by a small surtax on those earning over $1 million.
Speakers also called for support for federal employees facing imminent layoffs. Dan Toth, a business agent for the National Association Letter Carriers, said the U.S. Postal Service was under attack due to defunding measures passed under the Bush Administration.
“If we are forced to go to a five-day delivery system, letter carriers will lose 80 thousand jobs,” he said. “We need to stand together as union activists.”
Darlene Tinsley, Secretary-Treasurer of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3348, representing Social Security workers , said she was among a group of workers who met last month at the White House to discuss the importance of the American Jobs Act. She said in her 32 years of service she had never been more concerned about the cuts in federal jobs and crucial services now looming.
The Social Security Administration, she said, is reducing services to the most vulnerable, closing offices early and imposing a hiring freeze.
“We need to keep these jobs,” she said. “We need to continue speaking out until action is taken to solve this problem.”