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Rally Urges Senate to Put Teachers, First Responders Back to Work

Posted on October 19, 2011 | in Labor News | by
Photo credit: breity/flickr

In May, on the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week in Broward County, Fla., Cherine Akbari was honored “with a fancy embroidered jacket and handed a pink slip.”

Today, the out-of-work history teacher was in Washington, D.C., along with hundreds of teachers, fire fighters, police officers and supporters at an indoor Senate rally for the just-introduced Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act (S. 1723). The bill provides funds to local governments to put back to work or keep on the job some 400,000 teachers and first responders. Said Akbari, an AFT member:

I have my own worries, but I am more worried about my students…We need to ensure students have better opportunities to learn and receive the attention they deserve. Instead of being in front a classroom today, I am here to urge Congress to pass this bill.

Click here to send a message to your senators urging them support the bill.

The rally drew an overflow crowd that spilled into the Senate Russell Building hallways and was sponsored by the Fire Fighters (IAFF), AFT, AFSCME and other unions. IAFF President Harold Schaitberger called the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act a “critical piece of legislation for our nation’s economic future.”

In the past three years revenues have dropped. Some 300,000 teaching jobs lost, 15,000 firefighters jobs vacant, tens of thousands police officers’ jobs on the chopping block. The time for a solution is now and the time put people back to work is now. The time to support this legislation is now.

The bill mirrors a provision in President Obama’s American Jobs Act that Senate Republicans blocked with a filibuster last week. In his most recent weekly address, Obama said provisions of the bill will be broken out for individual votes and this is the first of those votes.

Vice President Joe Biden told the crowd that when he and other Obama and administration officials sat down to design to the jobs bill, “We said we should do things that would create jobs and that Republicans support. This wasn’t designed to put Republicans on the spot. It was designed to do something to help this country.”

The things we picked are things that every Republican I’ve served with have  supported—infrastructure, tax cuts for small businesses, for middle-class people, the ability to provide for the safety and security of our communities and continue teaching our kids.

But these guys wouldn’t even allow us to vote on it…Now we’re going to vote piece by piece and they can explain to the American people why they are against the people who save our lives and give our children a chance to have good lives.

Schaitberger said that Republicans can’t use the excuse that the bill adds to the deficit as a reason to oppose it because:

It is all paid for with a one half of 1 percent tax on those making more than a $1 million a year. I think they can afford that.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told rally participants that if Republicans won’t come to an agreement to hold a vote on the bill, he will set in motion Senate rules that will force a vote on the likely Republican filibuster of the Teachers and First Responders Act.

Biden urged people to watch how their lawmakers vote on the bill.

Watch them and see how they choose. Are they going to put 300,000 teachers back in the classroom, 15,000 firefighters back on the job and thousands of police officers back on the beat or vote to save people with incomes of  more than $1 million a one-half of 1 percent increase on the their taxes for every dollar they make over a million.

Jennifer Pierce, a Marion, Conn, police officer and AFSCME member told the crowd that recently, 56 Connecticut state troopers received pink slips and police departments around the state have laid off officers.

When there are fewer officers on the job, that hurts the entire community with longer response times…and when a cop calls for back up there might not be any nearby.

As police officers were are trained to run toward the problem and I hope politicians in Washington, D.C., do the same and run toward the Teachers and First Responders Act and pass the bill.

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