WASHINGTON - The nation's top labor, civil rights and community leaders joined forces here today and put forward a bold program they say is needed to create millions of new jobs and to lift the economy from the depths of the recession.
At a gathering sponsored by the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute they made it clear that all of the organizations they represent agree on a 5-point agenda that must be enacted if the economy is to begin working for the broad majority of Americans. The program they are demanding includes extension of the unemployment benefits lifeline for millions; the commitment of hundreds of millions in federal dollars to rebuild America's schools, roads and infrastructure, including "green" jobs in alternative energy and energy conservation fields; massive aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services; the direct creation of federally funded jobs in the "hardest hit communities," both in minority and other communities that have been devastated; and the use of remaining TARP (bank bailout) funds to get credit flowing to small and medium businesses that would be a direct help to Main Street, rather than Wall Street.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, declared, "While the job crisis would have been even worse without President Obama's economic stimulus program which has saved or created 1 million jobs, the depth of the crisis demands that we do more before more people lose their homes, their health care and their hope."
Trumka also called for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act as a way to make sure good jobs are created through collective bargaining. He also acknowledged harder-hit African American and Latino communities in the jobless numbers. Joblessness is an American problem, he said, urging unity on the economic fight.
Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, focused like a laser beam on why, in the interests of all workers, there must be a special effort at targeting job creation in the hardest hit minority communities.
"More than eight months ago unemployment in the Latino communities broke 10 percent," she said, "and now that it has done that across the board, we see plans for a jobs summit in December in Washington. Bold federal action is needed in the hardest hit communities to relieve the pain and suffering there but also to keep the pain and suffering from spreading everywhere else, which it is doing now and which it will continue to do if we don't get targeted relief to the hardest hit."
Murguia fully endorsed extensions of unemployment benefits but pointed out that many of the unemployed in minority communities are currently not collecting those benefits.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights endorsed the concept of targeting job creation efforts to hardest hit communities and noted that such efforts will benefit not only minority, but also white workers.
"The jobs crisis is so big that it is affecting all workers," he said. "There are white workers who are experiencing economic pain that was once experienced by minority workers living under segregation."
Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, said, "Jobs must be seen as the first and most critical issue in this crisis. It was lack of jobs in minority communities that made us talk about a moratorium on foreclosures in those communities four years ago. Now this is an issue everywhere because of the jobs crisis.
"People don't want to hear that they have to wait for a rejuvenated finance industry or for something else to create jobs somewhere down the line. They need action now, and it has to get from Wall Street, not just down to Main Street, but all the way to Back Street."
Jealous called the long-term jobs crisis in the African American community a "canary in the great American coal mine." Jealous took on The New York Times recent story "NAACP prods Obama on job losses."
"The president gets it," he said. "The pressure is going to be on those in Congress who don't get it yet."
Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, said the federal government must create, on the neighborhood level, jobs that result in the actual improvements needed in the communities.
"Like what the government did in the 1930's, these jobs will have a long-lasting positive effect," he said.
Representatives of the media gathered for the event asked the leaders how they expected to muster the political support for bold job creation measures, given concern about the size of the federal deficit.
"The labor movement has been knocking on millions of doors all over this country," said Trumka, "and we've never been asked about the deficit. People ask about their jobs, health care or whether they'll be able to send their kids to school. There is a very broad understanding out there that the only real way to fix the deficit problem is first to get everyone working."
"Elections have a way of bringing things into focus," said Henderson. "When it comes to the 2010 elections be assured that the coalition you see being formed here will have great success in holding all those people in Congress accountable on the issue of what they did or did not do when it comes to job creation. A pile of excuses or an attack on the president is not going to do it."
The press conference was also streamed live on the web and reported on the social media site, Twitter.