While AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a live webcast yesterday, answered questions about the jobs crisis from workers all over the country, Democratic leaders announced that they aim to pass a bill this week that will create millions of jobs.
The measure includes a considerable part of the labor federation's five-point jobs program, an issue Trumka discussed during the webcast.
One bill in the House will include $48 billion for "shovel-ready" construction projects and $27 billion in aid to states to keep teachers, police and public service workers on payroll. A second measure would help small businesses obtain loans and extend unemployment benefits.
House leaders said half of the $150 billion price tag will come from a $700 billion federal fund for bank bailouts approved by Congress last year. The labor movement's jobs program includes a demand that TARP funds be used to create jobs and encourage community banks to extend loans to small businesses.
Democratic leaders said the House would pass the legislation as early as today. While the safety net procedures, including extension of jobless benefits, could become law by next week, the jobs package component will not be considered by the Senate until at least January.
"This is legislation that brings jobs to Main Street by increasing credit for small businesses, by rebuilding the infrastructure of America and by keeping police and firemen and teachers on the job," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
While Pelosi made her remarks more than 5,500 people were voting on more than 150 questions workers had submitted for the AFL-CIO webcast. Those who called in asked questions on a wide range of subjects including green jobs, training, trade and unemployment in particularly distressed areas.
During his webcast Trumka tied the jobs crisis to what he called "the entire neo-liberal project - putting markets ahead of people, fighting regulations and unions." He said "that course has failed us."
Taking aim at joblessness among the nation's youth, he said. "We are going to have a young worker summit next year, to talk to young workers and build a strategy together."
He said that unions, before they endorse candidates, will be watching closely their records on job creation.
The unemployment benefits extension the House plans to pass right away would be for two months, although they plan to ultimately extend those benefits by six months. Health-care subsidies for the jobless and food-stamp programs would also be extended.
The extensions of the so-called "lifelines" will be combined with a $630 billion military spending bill which President Obama wants to sign into law by next week.
The funds for the "shovel ready" infrastructure projects and for additional aid to the states will be voted on separately and will not be taken up by the Senate until January.
Under the heading of "infrastructure," highway construction will get $27.5 billion and transit programs will get $8.4 billion. There will be $2 billion for improvement of drinking-water systems and $2 billion for affordable housing.
The state aid portion of the bill, pays for retaining public service workers, including teachers, to the tune of $23 billion.
Of the $185 billion that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says banks will return to the TARP program, $75 billion can, according to Democratic leaders, be used to help pay for the jobs program. TARP money, according to budget rules, cannot be used to pay for life-line extensions or for the $24 billion the bill includes to help states pay for health insurance for the poor.