Last week, on September 7, the North Valley Labor Federation (NVLF) hosted Economic Recovery in Our Community, a forum on high-speed rail and the jobs it is expected to bring to all of California beginning with the San Joaquin Valley. Attending the forum were about 50 people from labor, state, city and county government, and the community.
Mark Kyle of Operating Engineers Local 3 told the audience that high-speed rail will create approximately 600,000 jobs, not including jobs created as the system comes on line to sustain and support the system and provide the services necessary to travelers along the route. “These will be life-long career jobs. We’re ready to work,” said Kyle.
Pastor Wayne Bridegroom of Central Baptist Church in Modesto notes that, “Man was created to work.” People want to work, but with unemployment in the valley approaching, and in some places exceeding, twenty percent, jobs are simply not there. Not jobs that can support families, so families are forced to seek out assistance programs, public and private, to survive. Another group that wants to work but can’t find good paying jobs is veterans. Commander Frank Alvarez of the American GI Forum says that high-speed rail will help veterans get back into the workforce and continue contributing to the country they have already sacrificed much for.
Pastor Bridegroom also pointed out that job creation is not just “good theology,” but it will also help alleviate the enormous strain being placed on both taxpayer funded and privately funded relief systems. The jobs created by high-speed rail will allow relief organizations to once again focus on other needs, including spiritual needs in the case of churches, instead of relief work.
The forum keynote was presented by CA High Speed Rail Authority Board Member Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL?CIO. According to Balgenorth, high-speed rail works and is profitable in other countries and will be in California as well. He also noted that the Central Valley is the best place to start the project. It is flat, straight, and has the distance necessary for successful testing. “I am convinced the Valley is the right place to start. President Eisenhower started the interstate highway system in Missouri,” said Balgenorth.
High-speed rail is about providing a fast, clean energy, and economical transportation alternative to California’s overburdened freeway system and often inconvenient and expensive air travel. Expanding roads and airports will cost two to three times more than high-speed rail, says Balgenorth. “Plus, high-speed rail will bring jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Closing out the program was a call-for-action. Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, who has been high-speed rail’s chief advocate in the state legislature, said, “The Legislature needs to get behind high-speed rail, the only jobs program ready to start now.”
NVLF Organizer Tony Rojas encouraged letters to legislators as well as newspapers. Some of those who attended the forum have already set up meetings with legislators, like Turlock City Councilwoman Mary Jackson who said, “I want to know why Rep. Jeff Denham once supported high-speed rail but now opposes it. He needs to be held accountable.”