Labor, Democrats draft worker-friendly stimulus plan

Sen. Edward Kennedy and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced a new economic stimulus plan that extends jobless benefits by 13 weeks. The April 10 announcement followed a meeting between labor and congressional leaders in Washington D.C., where the package was drawn up.

The plan calls for extending unemployment benefits from their current 26 to 39 weeks, with an extension to 52 weeks in high-unemployment states. It also includes funds to repair roads, bridges and airports, funds for helping states maintain medical benefits, increases in food stamp benefits and additional tax rebates for low- and moderate-income taxpayers.

Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the package was hammered out at a meeting of labor leaders with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The measure will be brought to the Senate floor within a month, Kennedy said.

The new stimulus package is similar to the Democratic-backed measure that was cut from the first plan in the face of GOP opposition. Senate Republicans had threatened a filibuster if extended unemployment benefits were included in that package, which was signed by Bush Feb. 13.

“American families are suffering from this recession and it’s about time we got under way to solve some of their problems” Sweeney said. He described extended unemployment benefits and additional food stamp benefits as “key priorities.”

Kennedy declared, “We must make sure working families get the security they need and have worked hard for.” He added, “Workers pay into the unemployment benefits trust fund and should be able to use those dollars in hard times. We heard the calls of working families who need help and help is on the way.”

“The Bush administration has said, ‘No,’ we say, ‘Yes,’” Kennedy said.

In the closed-door meeting between congressional and labor leaders, Pelosi and Reid pledged to push the plan through Congress, the PAI labor news service told the World. PAI was the only print media representative invited to attend.

In addition to Sweeney, other union leaders at the special session with congressional leaders were Change to Win Chair Anna Burger, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, Service Employees President Andrew Stern, Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger, Flight Attendants President Pat Friend, Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger and AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades President Mark Ayres.

Other senators at the session were Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joint Economic Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Stabenow’s state has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Mark Gruenberg contributed to this article.