By Miriam Raftery
April 19, 2010 (Los Angeles) –“We have to reverse the tide and give working families a fighting chance,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said, speaking at the California Democratic Convention in Los Angeles this weekend.
Solis offered some hopeful news for small businesses as well as workers. “The evidence is very clear. The Recovery Act is working. A new study shows we’ve created 2.5 million jobs through the end of March,” she reported, adding that more than 42,000 loans to small businesses have been made since passage of the Recovery Act as well.
The nation also posted a 5.6% increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the fourth quarter of 2009 – a hefty increase from 2.2% the prior quarter according to the latest report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis released in late March.
Stimulus funds have also funded over 300,000 education jobs. In addition, 95% of working families received a tax cut under the Obama administration, which has provided $166 billion in tax relief to over 110 million families. Despite some progress, however, Solis observed, “Our work will not be done until we have positive job growth.”
That message was echoed by union leader Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “The top three concerns of working people are jobs, jobs and more jobs,” he said, speaking at a dinner during the convention. “The California dream and the American dream are really in danger…Corporate robber barons are robbing California and the U.S.”
Trumka cited some positive news for California workers. “For the first time in two years, 142,000 jobs were added in March,” he said. “But we still have 9.2% unemployment. It’s even higher among Latinos, while African-Americans have a 16.2% unemployment rate.
He faults “seven years of greed and grab on Wall Street” for causing economic collapse and job losses. He denounced the outsourcing of jobs overseas and thus far, refusal of Wall Street to “pay for the mess they created and put people back to work.” He called on the federal government to take remaining TARP funds for bank bail-outs and “lend it to small and medium-sized businesses that really need funds to put people back to work.”
He observed that in the past, “California invested in working families with great public schools and universities” as well as highways and other public projects. But amid the budget crisis, tuitions have gone up 32% in the past year alone at public universities here and K-12 schools are also feeling impacts of the budget axe. “Our children are being cheated of educations. People are losing jobs. But the wealthy and privileged are still getting their tax breaks,” he contended; in California, the wealthiest 1% account for 25% of income.
Citing data from www.paywatch.org, Trumka noted that even after taxpayers bailed out banks, some executives are back to making multi-million dollar salaries and hefty bonuses. “They’re back to business as usual,” he said. Trumka called for a tax on banking executives’ bonuses.
The AFL-CIO outlined its goals. The union wants the federal government to extend unemployment benefits, including COBRA benefits for the 6.5 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer. “The other night, we broke a shameless filibuster to extend benefits so people won/t go without food,” said Trumka, who criticized Republicans for attempting to block help for unemployed Americans.
Second, Trumka called for investment in infrastructure and green jobs, putting people back to work rebuilding decaying roads and schools as well as green jobs of the future. He also seeks more federal aid to help state and local governments and direct job creation. He also wants TARP funds reinvested in small and medium-sized businesses to create jobs.
He spoke of the importance of job training to restore dignity to Californians left jobless during the reception. Trumka told of a homeless man helped by an electrical apprenticeship program. “He said, `This program taught me how to be a man again with pride,’” Trumka recalled.
The union leader also delivered a partisan appeal to Californians to support former Governor Jerry Brown’s effort to win election to the Governor’s office again this fall.
“Jerry Brown spent a lifetime working for working families. When he was Governor, this state created 1.8 million jobs. Jerry and his father before him helped build the California dream,” said Trumka, who slammed Republican Meg Whitman, former CEO of e-bay, for attempting to buy her way into the office with massive campaign spending on TV advertising and more. “Megabucks Whitman wants to stage a hostile takeover of California,” he said.
Trumka concluded, “This election isn’t just about Jerry Brown. It is about bringing back the California dream—and ending the Wall Street nightmare.”