Senate to jobless workers: Drop dead!

Trenita Coleman has a lot of experience in childcare – and no job to show for it. The same thing goes for Margello Virgil in landscaping.

Coleman’s been job-hunting for two years and Virgil for at least a year. Both took a day off from pounding the pavements – Coleman gets up at 6 a.m. to start her 12-hour-a-day door-to-door job hunt-to come to D.C. on Oct. 11 to lobby lawmakers for President Obama’s American Jobs Act.

It didn’t work.

“I have 26 nieces and nephews” to help care for, Coleman says, and that doesn’t count her 18-month-old son. “If I get a job, I can get a place to stay and pay my bills. The American Jobs Act would give me that hope.”

The Senate, however, took that hope away.

“I’ve been getting along on a little unemployment” since his last employer, the D.C. subway system, laid off its landscapers, Virgil explained. “But with taxes and child support, there’s not much left over.” He says that without a job, and with benefits running out, his joblessness could soon mean jail – if he falls behind on child support payments.

The jobs act, by pushing infrastructure projects, would provide employment for highway landscapers too, Virgil hopes.

But their pleas, as well as those from dozens of other jobless workers who visited senators’ offices, joined by AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders and the Rev. Paul Sherry of Interfaith Worker Justice, fell on deaf ears.

The Senate voted Monday evening, 51-48 to shut off a GOP filibuster against Obama’s bill. It needed 60 votes, however, to end the talkathon that blocked the measure.

All 46 Senate Republicans voted against the President’s American Jobs Act, a bill that would create 2 million new jobs and keep 280,000 teachers from being laid off. It is now unlikely that there will be any other action on the President’s bill, as it is now written. “The 99 percent of our country who want jobs should now take note of how each and every senator voted,” declared AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “And we should ask each one who voted no – what is your plan? How would you put our country back to work and give hope to our nation’s families? Because the truth is the Republicans who unanimously blocked this courageous bill have no plan and seek to profit politically from the country’s pain.”

The American Jobs Act would also prevent 5 million workers from losing their unemployment benefits.

It would make immediate investments in rebuilding and upgrading the nation’s highways, transit, rail, airports, bridges, ports, schools and communications and energy infrastructure.

It would guarantee that the rich give more of their wealth to the effort to repair the economy. The bill includes a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires.

Trumka said the President’s bill, which, itself, was a compromise with Republicans, “should have brought together all senators of both parties to stem the tide of economic pain” sweeping over the nation. “Senate Republicans’ unanimous opposition to this jobs bill reflects shamefully distorted priorities that place partisan gain over economic security for the 99 percent of us who lack it,” he said, once again using terminology made popular by the Occupy Wall Street protests happening across the country.

In addition to the Occupy Wall Street protests that are continuing to spread this week, tens of thousands of union members and other activists are joining the AFL-CIO’s America Wants to Work mobilization to demand that Congress approve a jobs creation agenda.

 “Don’t lose faith, don’t lose hope,” Saunders told jobless workers lobbying at the Capitol just before the Senate vote. “Because your voices are being heard all across the country – on Wall Street as well as on Main Street,” added Medina, who said further: “We are here because the pain is real … and to protest our broken economy and our failing political system.”

“American workers can’t afford any more political games,” said Teamsters President James Hoffa. “The jobs crisis isn’t a Republican problem or a Democratic problem. It is time for both sides to come together to help put Americans back to work for the good of our country. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., had pronounced Obama’s jobs bill “dead on arrival” in the House even before the Senate action. He attacked, in the same breath, a variety of pro-environment, pro-worker regulations the administration is supporting.

Cantor’s remarks drew scorn from AFSCME President Gerald McEntee.

“Cantor just doesn’t get it. The country needs jobs, not another out-of-touch politician. Saying the American Jobs Act is ‘dead on arrival’ is yet another way for him to show he isn’t paying attention and he isn’t listening to the people,” McEntee said.

“For decades the working middle class has been under attack, and now, when we have a chance to rebuild Main Street, help hard working American families and inject a much-needed jobs program into the agenda, corporate-backed politicians like Cantor show their true colors.

Photo: Unemployed construction workers, clergy, local politicians, business and labor leaders, residents and others come together for a community jobs rally in the middle of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, Mo., July, 2010. (AP Photo/The Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville News-Democrat)



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. John Wojcik es editor en jefe de People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.