Space Coast rallies for jobs

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TITUSVILLE, Fla. — Union members and the general public gathered at a rally at Brevard Community College here, Feb. 27, to raise awareness of the massive economic destruction set to occur if Congress cancels NASA's Constellation apace program. Over 9,000 jobs will be cut immediately and a tsunami of closures for support businesses like restaurants, tourism and affiliated contractors will follow. Titusville sits on Florida's eastern coast about 30 miles from Cape Canaveral.

This rally was the kickoff of the AFL-CIO's Jobs for America campaign, to not only save jobs, but also push Congress to pass legislation to create jobs.

One of the main themes at the rally was the associated closures of space-related businesses in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas where thousands of jobs would be lost as well. Rank and file workers here were filled with anger, but had a tint of hope, as well.

For many, this was the first time they had participated in a rally that had such serious consequences. It's the lifeblood of entire communities, counties and states on the firing line.

Many said the "outsourcing" of space missions to China and Russia raises serious questions about safety, and U.S. ability to explore space at will. Do we want to pay Russia $20 million per astronaut for transport to the space station? An expensive hitchhiking adventure, people said.

Kevin Smith, president of Local 525 of the Transport Workers Union, said they knew this was coming, after experiencing similar threats between the Apollo and Shuttle gaps.

"We need to close the gap between the Shuttle and the Constellation programs which would save hundreds of jobs immediately," Smith said.  "Our local represents all the firefighters and rescue workers too, and those jobs would be ended immediately" if the program is cut.

Smith said there is not one state in America that is not tied to the space program. Smith said he felt the Jobs for America program is vital.

Tim Gagnon, who was laid off from his job in January, worked in the metal industry that supplied the space program.

When it comes to the Jobs for America initiative, Gagnon said he is concerned about lack of solidarity throughout the country. "I'm afraid the laid off UAW member in Detroit, or anywhere, won't give a rat's ass about what happens here in Florida or the rest of the country."

He then added, "We gave Wall Street over $800 billion and they paid out over $20 billion in bonuses last year. Don't you think we workers should have gotten some of that? Congress won't do shit unless we force them too. I would like to see a congressperson here but I don't expect to."

National leaders of the AFL-CIO, including President Rich Trumka, made speeches about how well the space program helped America, and the world, through the development of technology from space travel alone.

Rich Templin, communications director of the Florida AFL-CIO, said another reason for the rally was to try and reduce Florida's unemployment rate of 12.5 percent. He expects that over a short period of time another 23,000 jobs will be lost due to business closures and cancellation of contracts.

"Look at Florida as the epicenter of an earthquake," he said. "Shock waves will ripple throughout the state and the region. We need to tell Congress to keep reaching for the stars. This rally is also the kickoff to create 12 million new jobs in the upcoming few years. We have to get Congress to stop tax cuts for the wealthy and to stop sending jobs overseas."

While there weren't any state or national politicians attending the rally, there was a candidate for state representative in District 30, Democrat Amy Tidd. She was adamant that this could not be allowed to happen and her district would go down fighting.

"There will be a loss of three jobs for every space center job lost," she said. "There is no Democratic representation in Washington [from here] and I would be a connection to open communications. I am pro-labor and I support the Employee Free Choice Act. Unions are important because they protect jobs and benefits."

All photos: Robert Scott/PW

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