On the heels of huge jobs rallies in Evansville, Ind., and at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida this weekend, a packed local Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) union hall heard workers and community leaders in the Orlando area discuss the economic struggles area residents face.
Jobs for Justice played a key role in putting together the forum, which included panels of leaders who questioned workers who testified. The panelists included Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Larry Olness from the Heart of Florida United Way said the organization’s help line is inundated with calls from families lacking the resources to cope with the crises they face.
Tamecka Pierce, who is unemployed, told of her inability to find a job. She needs a job with benefits because she suffers from a chronic illness.
The truth is, to have a good quality of life, you have to have a good job with paid sick days and affordable health care.
Barbara Medina, an office staff person who works at the IUPAT local union hall where the forum was held, was homeless four years ago. She described how she built a new life, thanks to a good job after she was laid off and had to send her children back to Puerto Rico because she couldn’t afford to support them.
Because I was able to find a decent full-time job, I was able to keep my apartment, my kids and my dignity. And I was able to keep my promise to myself and my family that my family would never be broken up again.
Yesenia Garcia, a student at the University of Central Florida who has $17,000 in college debts with two years left to go.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been told that education is the key to realizing the American Dream. But so much has happened to take this opportunity out of the hands of so many.
Brothers Andy and Steve Contreras are underemployed workers in a fabrication plant:
We’re not looking for a bailout like wall Street. We just want a chance to work…and stay in our apartment and get the medicine we need.
Curtis Duffield, a local small business owner, said banks are making it harder for businesses to get loans.
It’s not that we’ve ever been late on a payment. It’s not something we have done. The reason small business is suffering is that these same banks and bonding companies underwrote the losses on these huge developments. They took the gamble with the insurance companies and the same money that used to be there for construction contracts isn’t there any more.
Other participants described how the community is suffering from a lack of business and the loss of tax revenue and vital services.
Grayson told the crowd because his parents were union members he could get the health care he needed as a child.
Politics is all about choices and I think we need a country where the people can speak about what those choices are.
Sister Ann Kendrick, one of the panelists, said she couldn’t understand why there was not a moral outrage across the country over the injustice of the jobs crisis.
Henderson said the workers’ stories “put a human face on the jobs crisis.”
Lots of people are like those we heard from. Their voices need to be lifted up and their stories need to be told to the people in Washington who are making decisions that affect our lives. They’re giving away billions of dollars to people who don’t work, haven’t earned it and who are not bringing justice to the American people.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the audience these examples point out the need for good jobs now. He said the AFL-CIO has a five-point plan to put the country back to work and called on working families to take action:
Tonight is the kick-off of our nationwide jobs campaign. The conversation we’re having here is the conversation that’s happening at dinner tables and in break rooms—but we have to take it even bigger. We have to engage entire communities across the country in dialogue exactly like this. We have to move it to action. And we have to take it into the streets.
So often it feels like problems are individual problems but when we recognize them as systemic problems, it becomes clear that the solution is to change the system. We can do that—and only do that—together as an entire community
The forum was held in conjunction with the AFL-CIO Executive Council’s March 1-3 meeting in Orlando. Earlier today, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the council.