After three days and 400 miles of barnstorming up the state to support high-speed rail and Jerry Brown, the Good Jobs Express Tour wrapped up in Sacramento Thursday. Exhausted yet energized, the two unemployed iron workers who embarked on the tour — Robert Escalera and Larry Greenhagen — had one final stop before heading home: Meg Whitman’s high-dollar fundraiser at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento.
Greenhagen and Escalera joined more than 100 other union members and community allies to protest Whitman’s opposition to high-speed rail and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it would create.
I know what it feels like to be unemployed. It hurts. Meg Whitman doesn’t know the first thing about us, and she doesn’t care what we’re going through. I came on this tour to raise awareness about this election and where the candidates stand on jobs. The more I talked with my brothers and sisters about the situation across the state, the more I came to understand that none of us is alone in this struggle for jobs. We need leaders who will stand up for us and help get us back to work. Meg Whitman says she’ll kill this project and the hope of jobs it brings. Jerry Brown will put us back to work. We all need to get out and vote because our jobs depend on the outcome of this election.
The Sacramento protest was the final stop on the Good Jobs Express Tour, which rallied construction trades members and working families in the cities of Anaheim, Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto and Sacramento. Greenhagen and Escalera were joined at each stop by elected officials, labor leaders, environmental advocates and community allies to make the case for high-speed rail and candidates who support it.
California high-speed rail would create 450,000 new jobs statewide. 100,000 new construction jobs. Improved air equality. Trains that will take you from Anaheim to San Francisco in less than three hours. The project is voter approved and has already received $2.5 billion from the federal government. Brown is a strong supporter of high-speed rail, given its economic and environmental benefits. Whitman, on the other hand, reaffirmed her opposition to the project this week, saying California can’t afford it. Yet she proposes billions in tax giveaways to the wealthy that won’t help create a single job.
The tour kicked off in Anaheim on Tuesday with elected leaders, including Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, energizing a crowd of over 150 workers at the Amtrak Katella Station. Orange County Building Trades representative Jim Adams, Orange County Labor Federation Executive Director Tefere, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski and other labor leaders emphasized the positive impacts the project will have on the Southern California economy, and its potential to create tens of thousands of jobs in the region.
The Sierra Club’s Darrell Clark highlighted the environmental benefits of the project, noting that with high-speed rail a trip from Anaheim to San Francisco will take two hours and forty-six minutes and save nearly 350 pounds of CO2 emissions.
The rally ended with a call for Southern California working families to get out the vote for Jerry Brown and other candidates who support high-speed rail and the good jobs it would create.
In Bakersfield, Congressman Jim Costa was joined by local elected officials and leaders from the Kern-Inyo-Mono Labor Council, local Building Trades Council, workers and others. Congressman Costa, one of the original authors of Prop 1A, the bond measure that granted funding for the high-speed rail project, emphasized the important role the project will play in the Central Valley:
This will really connect our valley economically. It’s a game changer that will connect Southern California with Northern California. You can get on a train in Bakersfield and be in Los Angeles in 30 minutes, to downtown. You can get in a train in Bakersfield and be in San Francisco in two hours. This project will allow for serious economic development.
The next stop brought the tour to Fresno, in the heart of the Central Valley. Held at the Santa Fe rail yard, local candidates joined workers and labor leaders to highlight high-speed rail’s potential to put Central Valley families back to work in a region devastated by high unemployment.
Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council leader Randy Ghan called on Valley voters to reject Whitman’s proposal to kill good jobs by opposing high-speed rail and infrastructure projects.
In Modesto, dozens gathered at Graceada Park to hear from Congressman Dennis Cardoza, State Assemblymember Anna Caballero, and leaders from the North Valley Labor Federation including President Marcie Bayne, Vice President Tom Aja and Secretary-Treasurer Guy Rinfrow. Speaking to the cheering crowd, Congressman Cardoza talked about how vital the high-speed rail project will be to economic growth in the Central Valley:
We can't be a superpower unless we have the capacity to build things right here in the United States, right here in the Central Valley.
After the rally at Graceada Park, volunteers spent the evening phone banking at the North Valley Labor Federation, urging their neighbors to vote for local and statewide candidates who support the high-speed rail project.
The final stop of the tour took place outside the Federal Building in Sacramento overlooking the rail yard, the future location of the high-speed rail stop in the State Capitol. Sacramento Labor Council leader Bill Camp was join by state and local labor leaders, including State Building and Construction Trades President Bob Balgenorth, elected officials and environmentalists.
The Labor Federation’s Pulaski:
Meg Whitman doesn’t think we need jobs to rebuild the economy. When she was CEO, she got accustomed to slashing jobs and putting people out of work. The way she says we’re going to get more jobs doesn’t make sense. She says she’s going to give tax cuts to big corporations to create jobs. That hasn’t worked before. The way we get jobs is by rebuilding the economy to put people back to work, and high-speed rail is one way to do it.
Closing the rally, Dr. Ami Bera, candidate for Congressional District 3, said building high-speed rail, like this election, is all about a choice between moving the country forward or taking a step back.
This is about moving this country forward. This is about taking us into the 21st century and creating a transportation system that moves us in the right direction, one that moves us toward that clean energy economy. Let’s start putting people back to work!
At the protest of the Whitman fundraiser in Sacramento last night, Escalera, one of the unemployed iron workers, said if Whitman were to come outside to meet with the protestors, he would have just one thing to ask her:
I don't want a government handout, I don't want an unemployment check. I want a paycheck and a job I can go to every day. How can you not support that?