As layoffs spread, pressure grows to pass recovery act

The news that another 100,000 workers have lost their jobs sent a shock wave across the nation even as President Obama visited Capitol Hill Jan. 27 to urge quick approval of his $825 billion economic stimulus package.

“If nothing is done, the unemployment rate could reach double digits,” Obama had warned in his first radio address Jan. 24 just four days after taking office. “Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four. And we could lose a generation of potential as more young Americans are forced to forgo college dreams or the chance to train for the jobs of the future.” Obama said his plan will preserve or create more than four million jobs.

The warning got grim validation as Caterpillar Corporation announced termination of 20,000 jobs, Sprint-Nextel 8,000 jobs, Home Depot 7,000 jobs, Pfizer 19,000 jobs and GM 2,000 jobs —all on a single day.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference sponsored by Americans United for Change, warned, “Every week that goes by brings more bad news and every week that Congress does not act, the economic hole we are in becomes deeper and more difficult to get out of.” He assailed GOP efforts to “kill or gut this economic recovery package. There is too much at stake. This package is absolutely essential to turning around this downward economic spiral.”

Anna Burger, chair of Change to Win, told the news conference Republican tax cut schemes are a recipe for “more foreclosures, more jobs lost, more pain for working families. Obama’s plan will give immediate help to local communities and immediate hope to working Americans.”

Hard-hit businesses also support the recovery package. Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Association of General Contractors, said “It isn’t every day that you can save millions of jobs, protect thousands of businesses and rebuild the American economy with a single vote.” He urged a “yes” vote in both houses of Congress.

Terry Hatch, legislative director of the National Electrical Contractors Association said, “What we need now is leadership from Congress to make energy efficient projects a reality in communities across the nation.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers released highlights of a report this week that gave a grade of “D” to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure—roads, bridges, railroads, electric power grids, water and sewer systems, schools. Andrew Hermann, chair of the ASCE report committee said the findings were released two months early “to be relevant” in the current debate on Obama’s plan. “Investing in our infrastructure will create jobs,” he said.

Yet Republican House leader John Boehner of Ohio claimed the GOP favors “fast-acting tax cuts, not slow-moving government spending.”

“Remember, we already tried the Republican tax cut plan and what did we get? It didn’t do anything to stimulate the economy, ” said Rick Doty, president of United Auto Workers Local 974 representing Caterpillar workers in Mossville, Il. The Peoria area where Local 974 is located has three major projects on the books waiting for the funding, he told the World by phone.

“These are ‘ready-to-go’ projects,” he said. “State and local governments just don’t have the funds to pay for them. President Obama’s plan will definitely help stimulate the economy.”

He said he expects the projects to be up and running within three to four months. The Obama plan, he said, could result in recall of some of the 20,000 workers furloughed by Cat as orders for earthmoving equipment have collapsed at home and around the world.

Caterpillar announced in December that their Mossville plant that manufactures 9 liter and 18 liter engines will close in February terminating 814 workers. Yet always looking at their bottom line instead of social good, Cat plans to build a new small engine plant in Seguin, Texas. The state has approved $10 million in taxpayer funds to subsidize construction of the non-union plant.

“They’re going to Texas to take advantage of low wages,” Doty said, noting that Cat workers in Mossville earn $17 an hour but in Texas the workers will earn less than $10 an hour for the same work. The UAW will launch a drive to unionize the new plant, he said.

In his radio speech, Obama said his $825 billion plan will provide $275 billion in tax cuts including $150 billion in tax cuts for low and middle income families; $550 billion for public works projects including $100 billion in private sector clean energy investments, and the doubling of renewable electricity generating capacity and a major extension of electricity transmission lines.

Unemployment compensation will be extended along with health care coverage for 8.5 million workers who have run out of their benefits. The plan also includes an expansion of the child tax credit and the weatherization of 2.5 million homes and 75 percent of federal buildings.

Immigrant rights groups urged Congress to remove an amendment that would require businesses receiving funding to use the unfair, and inaccurate Basic Pilot/E-

Verify program aimed at the arrest and deportation of undocumented workers.