By Mike Hall
AFL-CIO Blog via Progressive America Rising
The nation’s ailing economy needs a prescription powerful enough to heal the jobs crisis and America’s working families need an independent political voice that’s not beholden to parties or politicians, says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
At a Labor Day press conference this afternoon, Trumka unveiled a six-point “America Wants to Work” jobs and economy initiative “that is serious and reflects the scale of the crisis we face.” The plan includes:
Rebuilding the nation’s transportation and energy infrastructure;
Reviving U.S. manufacturing and ending the exportation of U.S. jobs;
-- Putting people to work in local communities;
Helping states and local governments to prevent layoffs and cuts to public services;
Extending unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and helping homeowners keep their homes; and
Reforming Wall Street so it helps Main Street create jobs.
Here’s detailed look:
AFL-CIO’s ‘America Wants To Work Action Plan’
Three decades of Wall Street and corporate-dominated economic policies drove our economy into the ground, and we are still paying a high price for these policy failures. Unemployment and underemployment are projected to remain at crisis levels for years; our trade deficit is growing; the housing market continues its downward slide; millions of Americans are facing foreclosure; and real wages are stagnant. The AFL-CIO calls on Congress and the administration for big, bold, timely action to put America back to work, retain good jobs, and rebuild the U.S. economy.
1. Rebuild America’s schools and transportation and energy systems. If we have the will to tackle the jobs crisis, there is no mystery about how to go about doing it. We need to invest at least $2.2 trillion in repairing our crumbling 20th century infrastructure and another $2 trillion building a modern clean energy infrastructure for the 21st century. These investments would put millions of people to work while laying the foundation for long-term economic growth and competitiveness.
Congress should fund the Surface Transportation Act at $556 billion over six years, as proposed by President Obama; identify revenues to fund enhanced investment in highways, transit, rail, and ports; allow transit agencies to flexibly use federal funds to save and create jobs; fully fund Amtrak and make it the centerpiece of our high-speed rail program; pass a robust reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that would sustain or create 300,000 jobs; adopt a national policy to get truly high-speed broadband to every individual, family, business, and community in America; create a government-backed bond program to help state and local governments finance the maintenance and repair of infrastructure, as well as new construction projects; reauthorize and expand the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund; fund port dredging and maritime investment projects; renew the Building Star program to create jobs through the installation of energy-saving technology; create an adequately financed infrastructure bank to fund good jobs; and ensure that U.S. tax dollars are used to create U.S. jobs by insisting on Buy America safeguards.
Sen. Boxer's shorter-term reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Act, which would sustain or create 1.9 million jobs, awaits immediate action by Congress when it returns from the August recess, and Congress must not put thousands of FAA employees and construction workers out of work by allowing the FAA reauthorization to expire yet again.
2. Revive U.S. manufacturing and stop exporting good jobs overseas. We cannot hope to restore our economy to health unless we revive American manufacturing. This will require action on many fronts, including ending currency manipulation, reforming tax policy, enforcing and reforming our trade policies, strengthening government procurement policies, and increasing investment in job training. Congress should take concrete action to stem currency manipulation by passing the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act. It should also renew tax incentives for investments in advanced energy (Section 48C); expand Title 17 loan guarantees to include investments in energy efficiency; end tax incentives that encourage the offshoring of good manufacturing jobs; enhance Buy America safeguards; reform our trade agreements to raise global labor and environmental standards and support good jobs at home; enforce our trade laws; reauthorize a robust Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program for workers who lose their jobs due to trade; and oppose free trade deals with Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
3. Put people to work doing work that needs to be done. There are 25 million people in America who need full-time work, and there is plenty of work to be done. Congress should pass legislation to provide for the direct creation of millions of jobs in local communities, such as Rep. Miller’s “Local Jobs for America Act” or Rep. Schakowsky’s “Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act.” These jobs must pay competitive wages and target distressed communities and must not replace existing jobs.
4. Help federal, state, and local governments avoid more layoffs and cutbacks of public services. Layoffs by federal, state and local government are dragging down the economy and making a double dip recession more likely. Congress should make a commitment not to lay off any more federal employees and prevent additional state and local layoffs by providing for increased federal funding of Medicaid when unemployment is high and by providing additional federal investment directly to local communities to save and create jobs and protect and restore public services.
5. Help fill the massive shortfall of consumer demand by extending unemployment benefits and keeping homeowners in their homes. Over $12 trillion of wealth was destroyed in 2008 when the housing bubble and stock market collapsed, and our economy continues to suffer from a massive shortfall of consumer demand. This is the primary reason why businesses are not hiring. Extending unemployment benefits for jobless workers and providing relief for homeowners facing foreclosure can help reduce this drag on the economy. If banks lowered the principal balance on all underwater mortgages to their current market value, over $70 billion per year would be pumped back into the economy, millions of families would be able to stay in their homes, and over one million jobs would be created. Congress and the administration should provide for mandatory reduction of principal for homeowners facing foreclosure—through bankruptcy reform, mandatory mediation, or other means. Congress should also extend the federal unemployment benefits program for another year.
6. Reform Wall Street so that it helps Main Street create jobs. The financial sector should channel capital to productive sectors of the economy, but the financial sector now diverts far too many resources from the productive economy, fails to finance productive investment, and endangers the global economy with its reckless gambling. Congress and the administration should pass legislation to encourage more lending to small businesses; enact a Financial Speculation Tax to discourage harmful speculation and make Wall Street pay to rebuild the economy it helped destroy; and enforce tough safeguards to stop the kind of cheating and massive fraud on Wall Street that precipitated the crisis of 2008.
The solutions we propose must be on the same scale as the problems we face. Half measures will not put America back to work. Nor will the same old Wall Street economic policies that drove our economy into the ground in the first place.
Four workers joined Trumka, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker at today’s press conference. They told reporters their personal stories about struggling to find work and fighting back against the attacks on workers and workers’ rights being waged by extremist politicians in states across the nation.
Leann Bosquez, a member of the AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America, has been out of work since early this year. A former retail sales manager with a reputation for boosting sales and cutting costs says:
I’ve never had difficulty getting a job before. But now I send out resumes or talk to people and they say I’m either overqualified or undereducated. There are hundreds of people applying for the same job. It’s clear more must be done to create jobs.
New Hampshire Electrical Workers (IBEW) member Steve Soule describes himself as a “conservative Republican,” but he fiercely opposes Republican attacks on workers such as the fight in New Hampshire over so-called right to work legislation. The Navy combat veteran says:
I don’t support Republican efforts to diminish unions. My family benefits from what labor unions do. Being in a union has allowed me to have a family and a job with security and benefits. It’s a good thing for me and a good thing for my community.
Many young workers are not as fortunate as Soule to have steady work in a good job with a union contact. Shuler says the jobs crisis has hit young workers particularly hard, with 22.5 percent of high school graduates under 25 years old jobless in 2010, compared with 12 percent in 2007. Too many politicians, she says, are focusing on “deficit reduction” and cutting vital programs instead of investing in jobs.
Without investment in job creation, young people will suffer in the future as the result of stunted opportunities in the present.
Mobilizing for job creation and economic justice will be the focus of the AFL-CIO’s Next Up Young Workers Summit to be held Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 in Minneapolis.
While the faltering economy has taken its toll on jobs and working families, there have been deliberate attacks on public service workers by politicians like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and others. These extremist lawmakers blame workers for their states’ economic crises—not their failed corporate-backed policies—and claim eliminating workers’ rights to collectively bargain will somehow solve their economic problems.
“B.J.” Simmons Talley, an AFSCME member and Ohio bus driver for 32 years, says she is offended by Kasich’s targeting of public employees.
I’ve been watching Gov. Kasich. What he’s done hasn’t created any jobs, he’s just attacked workers, teachers, firefighters….He’s taken money from public schools. We’re not trying to be rich. We just want to feed our families, buy clothes for our kids and send them to school and hope there are jobs for them when they get out.
Holt Baker says that along with attacks on workers’ rights, these same extremist lawmakers are pushing voter suppression efforts that could disenfranchise as many as 21 million people, especially young people, people of color and poor people. She says the voter suppression drive is “shocking” and “reminiscent of the 1950’s…and a new poll tax.”
This year, state legislators in 34 states—nearly all Republicans—introduced voter ID laws under the guise of preventing voter fraud. But these laws disenfranchise voters rather than stopping actual fraud. Even the Bush administration’s Department of Justice’s comprehensive five-year investigation uncovered only 86 instances of improper voting across the entire country.
Like many union and other workers this year, Dawn Jennewein isn’t passively sitting around, instead she is fighting back against these assaults on workers. The vice president of her Missouri Communications Workers of America (CWA) local union says she has been holding politicians accountable and speaking out rallies because:
if we don’t fight for our future, our kids and our grandkids, they won’t have anything. We have to fight for them like the retirees before us fought for what we have today.
Trumka also announced the creation of an independent advocacy PAC that will “build the political power for America’s silent majority, the middle class and poor who are struggling to get by.”
It will be an effort by and for working people, communicating beyond our membership and striving to ensure all who work a strong and clear voice in the political process.