My grandfather, a member of what Tom Brokaw coined the “greatest generation,” was a chief petty officer in the US Navy during World War II, fighting along so many others for nothing less than freedom itself. He made it back. Many of those he served with did not.
Upon returning home, he needed a job. While looking for work is never easy, he found meaningful employment first as a police officer in Washington state and then later at Caltrans in the San Joaquin Valley. Back then, putting veterans to work was a priority. Government partnered with labor unions and employers to create a pathway to careers for veterans who bravely served our country, defending the freedoms many take for granted today.
But now, a different story is playing out. Veterans are falling through the societal cracks. The unemployment rate for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is a shameful 10 percent. Poverty and homelessness are rampant. To add insult to injury, veterans are often among the first groups to suffer from cuts to the social safety net. Recently 900,000 veterans saw critical food stamp aid slashed.
We are failing our nation’s heroes. And that’s simply unacceptable.
I’m proud that California’s unions are stepping up to change that. This week California Labor launched “Veterans and Labor – Partners in Service.” The program aims to support our state’s veterans on three fronts: providing volunteer service, opening doors to good jobs and a special Veterans Day event to honor our heroes for their service.
At a press conference tomorrow morning at 11 on the north steps of the State Capitol, labor leaders, elected officials and veterans will unveil a new 7-point plan to put vets on the path to good jobs. It builds off good work that’s been happening in the legislature in recent years to support veterans, and offers new ideas for policies to pursue in future legislative session. And California’s labor movement is fully committed to backing efforts to help vets establish a foothold in our state’s middle class.
Some may ask, why is labor doing this? It’s simple, really. Unions have a long history of supporting veterans through apprenticeship programs, Helmets to Hardhats, community service and other efforts. About 20 percent of our membership served in uniform. And we’re uniquely positioned to lift up veterans through legislative advocacy.
Every veteran, from my grandfather’s generation to those who served in our most recent conflicts in the Middle East, deserves our gratitude. But we owe them much more than a simple “thank you.” Veterans deserve good, family supporting jobs. And California’s unions are determined to help ensure they get those opportunities. Stay tuned to this blog for more details on “Veterans and Labor – Partners in Service.”