BALTIMORE – In the shadow of the Wilkens Ave. Bridge, one of Maryland’s 372 “structurally deficient bridges,” more than 200 workers rallied Aug. 2 to “Build Maryland so Maryland Works.” The protesters demanded that Congress enact long-stalled legislation that would create 61,000 jobs in Maryland and millions more nationwide rebuilding crumbling bridges, roads, and schools.
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., led off with the rhetorical question: “Who wants to WORK?!” and the crowd responded “WE DO!”
Edwards, who represents Prince Georges County in the U.S. House, is a co-sponsor of the $100 billion Local Jobs for America Act and other job-creating legislation. She was greeted very warmly and enthusiastically. “I’m like you,” she said. “I’m a worker and organizer! LIUNA is onto something: Americans want to WORK!”
The rally was sponsored by Local 710 of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), part of LIUNA’s nationwide campaign demanding quick passage by the House and Senate of the Highway Transportation Equity Act that would provide $450 billion over six years including $337.4 billion for highway repairs, $99.8 billion for mass transit, and $50 billion for high-speed rail.
LIUNA has staged rallies so far in Indiana, Colorado, Maryland and Connecticut to demand that Congress allocate the funds to “Build America so America Works.”
LIUNA Local 710 Business Manager Jim Anastase told the crowd, “The problems facing Maryland are already too big to ignore. One-fourth of our bridges are structurally deficient … One-third of our roads are mediocre or in poor condition. We have no choice. For the sake of everyone in our state, we have to invest before it is too late.”
LIUNA points out that Chesapeake Bay once produced millions of bushels of oysters each year. Faulty municipal and industrial wastewater plants add 13 percent of the nitrogen and 21 percent of the phosphates blamed for the disastrous decline in oyster beds in the bay.
Denny Martire, a LIUNA vice president and Mid-Atlantic LIUNA manager, warned that every year of delay adds $150 billion to the cost of repairing and rebuilding basic infrastructure in the U.S. – estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers to total between $1.3 trillion and $2.2 trillion.
Dave Stokes told the crowd that both he and his wife are currently laid off. He cautioned listeners who have been “blessed with a job and haven’t had to file for assistance: be aware that you, too, can be laid off!”
“Times are tough!” he said. “Times have rose up, and we’re gonna rise up, too!”
Jennie Thompson, a 30-year veteran member of Local 710, said she was laid off last October. “Fixing our roads, bridges, pipes and schools is just common sense,” she said as the crowd applauded. “Not only will it put me and others back to work, but it will also give us work we can be proud of, work that helps our communities.”
Thompson told the People’s World her unemployment compensation ran out in June. “It just started up again last week,” she said. “But I’m without health insurance. We lost all the way around. I’m 62. I needed to work two more years to retire with benefits. But I can’t do it now.”
She blasted Republican senators for blocking an extension of benefits and also for obstructing legislation that would create millions of jobs.
“It was ridiculous,” she said. “There are no jobs out there. What are we supposed to do? We’re trying to get some jobs. There’s plenty of skilled labor and plenty of work that needs to be done.”
She debunked Republican claims that “there is no money” to pay for these public works and public service jobs. “Start taxing those making $200,000 or more each year. Then we can afford it,” she said. “They bailed out Wall Street. Why not bail out workers who are unemployed.”
She was employed at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Shipyard removing asbestos, lead and other hazardous waste. The yard is now shut down. LIUNA members did most of the road and highway work, and built the Ravens and Orioles stadiums. “But now they are bringing in non-union workers to do that work. This is unacceptable. It’s a slap in the face,” she said. “That’s why I attend all the rallies for jobs. We have between 13 and 14 percent unemployment in Baltimore.”
Betty Bland Thomas, president of the South Baltimore Coalition, said jobless workers in Baltimore “not only need work, they want to work and are ready to work. We want these jobs NOW! People are hurting! What do we want? JOBS!”
Jim McNeils, an executive of the Joseph B. Fay construction company, told the rally, “We’ve got the capacity to do twice as much work as we’re doing right now and we’ve had to let go 40 percent of our employees. … We want to bring people back to work but we need Washington to invest in our highways for that to happen.”