Hundreds of workers rallied at the California state Capitol on Thursday with a clear message to legislators in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C.: Jobs are priority No. 1.
California has been devastated by record unemployment of more than 12 percent, leaving more than 2 million workers out of jobs. Nearly 35 percent of California’s unemployed have been looking for work for six months or more. To make matters worse, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has shown no leadership on job creation and his budget cuts have shredded the state’s safety net at a time when workers need it the most.
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski put it this way:
Gov. Schwarzenegger’s record on job creation is as bad as some of his B movies. Even with record unemployment, he’s still offering no help to our state’s jobless. The governor’s low-road economy has failed California families. Labor’s agenda to rebuild California’s economy is simple. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. We need to prioritize the creation of good, middle class jobs, and we need leaders with the vision and political will to get the job done.
Rep. John Garamendi told the crowd of more than 700 that representatives in Congress are committed to delivering on jobs right away, providing relief to the millions in California and around the country who are without work during the Great Recession of the past two years. Garamendi said Congress is working hard to jump-start ready-to-go infrastructure projects that will put people to work while repairing our crumbling roads, bridges and schools.
That was a welcome message to Charles Bynum, an unemployed heavy equipment operator from Sacramento. Despite being highly skilled in operating 17 different kinds of heavy equipment, Bynum, an Operating Engineers Local 3 member, worked only three months in the past year. Unpaid bills are beginning to pile up on his kitchen table.
I’ve been on the out-of-work list for the last three months, even though I’m looking for work constantly. I’m not looking for a government handout. I’m looking for a job. And I know plenty of other brothers and sisters looking for work, too. Construction workers are the heart of this economy. When we have work, the economy does well. But we need the opportunity to provide for our families and help get this economy moving again.
State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said California Democrats are moving quickly to provide some relief to the unemployed. Steinberg recently unveiled a package of 27 job creation bills that would create more than 140,000 jobs in California.
Pulaski said the California union movement would mobilize in huge numbers in the coming weeks and months to ensure that state job creation measures get signed. The California Labor Federation will work closely with the AFL-CIO to enact its five-point jobs plan, which would bring more federal dollars to cash-strapped states like California to spur job creation. Pulaski said that simply creating jobs isn’t enough. If California’s economy is going to turn around, we need good, middle-class supporting jobs.
Jobs must pay a decent wage and provide benefits and retirement security. And the best way to do that is through workers bargaining collectively with their employers.
This article also appeared on the AFL-CIO blog.