My name is Russ Meyer. I live in Portland, Oregon with my wife Stephanie and my 4 year old son Wyatt.
I’m a college grad and have spent my career as marketing copywriter. I was laid off in October of 2008 and, aside from freelance or contract work wherever I can find it, I’ve been without consistent employment since. My wife stays at home with our son. And without an extension, we will lose unemployment insurance in a couple of months.
I never dreamed I would be without work for this long. I didn’t know the door that shut behind me that day would stay closed indefinitely. For many like me, getting back to the jobs and the income we had is a fantasy. Now we’re just trying to survive. We’ve come to grips with the reality that, for now, for today, we just have to find a way to get by.
We’re acutely aware of our situation. We know exactly which bills can’t get paid and exactly how much food and gas is going to cost this week. And we know exactly how far we can stretch our benefit amount. This isn’t about finally dipping into our savings. Those savings are long gone. It’s not about finally putting our pride aside to ask our family and friends for help. They’ve helped. They’re tapped out.
Unless you’ve been in our shoes, you can’t imagine the despair we feel knowing that we’ve reached the end of the line despite our best efforts.
We’ve learned we can do a hell of a lot with a little. Now is not the time to take that help away from us.
The politicians have it easy. At the end of November, the unemployment insurance extension is set to expire. With the unemployment rate still hovering around ten percent, this means that millions of Americans will be without mortgage payments, groceries, and heat. They will be without Christmas presents, winter coats, and school supplies. Sure, maybe a job will pop up. Maybe from one of the hundreds of applications that they sent out, they will get a call back. They will keep hoping and applying, and maybe it will finally pay off. But undoubtedly, the rent will be due.
I don’t envy the hardworking men and women in the Unemployment Offices around the country. Not for a second. I don’t envy the person on the other side of the desk, or phone call, or the email telling the unemployed that their worst fears have been realized.
At our last member meet-up, the conversation turned to Unemployment Insurance and then to housing because housing fears are at the end of all long-term unemployment worries. “I don’t know what I am going to do,” said our hostess Angela, whose benefits will be exhausted at the end of the month. She is currently on a month to month lease at her apartment because without a steady job or proof of income past November, she couldn’t sign on for a full year. She contemplates moving in with family, but worries about stability for her daughter.
Lynda has been searching for more affordable housing for months. Her house is under foreclosure but thankfully, the bank gave her a few months to find something else. Every day she is scouring the internet and newspapers for houses. They have looked at dozens of places, but their applications have been turned down every time. “If our unemployment insurance runs out, we might have to move into a shelter,” Lynda said. She survived breast cancer; she thought she could survive this recession.
“I have been saving every penny I can to make it through the winter. We may not have heat or extra money, but I can’t spend the winter in my car again.” Liz tears up as she remembers freezing nights, huddled under blankets in her car last year after her hours as a nurse’s assistant were cut back so severely that she lost her apartment. She would save as much as she could to stay in a motel for a night. Eventually, through odd jobs and short term assignments, she was able to work her way into an apartment, but if this vote fails her, and she isn’t able to find another job in time, she might be right back where she started.
Congress has a choice to make: to extend the lifeline, or not? To keep people in their homes and food on the table, or not? It’s a simple choice, but there will be people who vote against it. Here is the easy part: if this monumentally important vote fails, the politicians will go home, pay their rent, buy their groceries and celebrate the holidays.
On Tuesday, a group of Working America activists gathered to deliver thousands of petitions urging Congressman Boehner to invest in our communities and create jobs. We strung the petitions across two blocks in front of his office, chanting “Boehner don’t do us wrong, stop stringing us along” and “Jobs for Main Street, Not for Wall Street,” and then delivered the petitions to Boehner’s aide. Our immediate requests were simple: we wanted Boehner to support an extension in unemployment benefits instead of more tax cuts for his rich donors. Unemployment benefits help jobless workers find work, and they create jobs by boosting sales for businesses. Without this extension, hundreds of thousands of jobless workers will have benefits cut off just in time for Christmas.
We ran the petitions along the sidewalk, past a large law office and a house. In the house, the residents saw the petitions and came out to see what we were up to. They were incredibly excited to see us standing up to Boehner, helped us string the petitions along their trees, and joined in the action. They even gave us a union shirt from the IAM. We were happy to see them join in, and that’s the kind of spontaneous support that we find from working families in communities all around Ohio every day.
The lawyers from the law firm also saw the petitions. Now, before this story makes you hate lawyers, I should note that a lot of lawyers recognize that they are working people, and they join and support our work because they recognize that we are fighting for their rights, too. Unfortunately, these weren’t that kind of lawyer. They insulted us, waved a newspaper and and shouted, “There’s plenty of jobs in here” and even brandished a broom sarcastically shouting, “I’ve got a job for you right here if you want one.” They didn’t bother to ask Marvin, a member who used his unemployment benefits to find work, why he would still want others who are jobless to have benefits too. We would’ve been happy to explain that most working families in America believe in helping each other out. Of course, these highly educated lawyers must be aware that there are 5 job seekers for every job opening in America right now, so they were probably just acting up for the TV crews.
We are enormously grateful that they did. It is hard to find a better illustration of what is happening in this country than a group of well-heeled lawyers shouting insults at other working people, simply because we have the gall to stand up and speak out. Our hope for both Congressman Boehner and his supporters is the same: we want them to stand with working families instead of the corporate elite. But if they insist on standing against working families, we request that they continue to openly display their arrogance and contempt for the rest of us; it really helps clarify where things stand.
We aren’t naïve about how much Boehner would have to change for him to become a friend of working families. He has been an important figure in the corporate takeover of government since he came to office in the early 90’s. He distinguished himself early on by handing out checks from the tobacco lobby on the floor of Congress . He continues to raise a fortune from special interests.
Given his record, it isn’t surprising that Boehner’s first priority since he was swept into power is doling out $700 Billion dollars of tax cuts to the super-rich. On the other hand, this summer he voted against extending unemployment benefits that would have cost less than a 10th as much as these tax cuts. No expense is too great when it comes to serving wealthy donors, but Boehner pinches every penny when it comes to paying out unemployment insurance benefits that we have already paid into as working families.
It is important to understand that Boehner’s stance on tax cuts for the rich is part of a pattern that has dramatically reshaped our country over the last 30 years. A long string of similar redistributive decisions have facilitated a remarkable transfer of wealth from working families to the corporate elite. While working people have become more and more productive, generating more and more wealth, almost all of that wealth has gone to a tiny sliver of people at the top of the ladder. This process wasn’t natural; it was engineered through government and corporate policies that changed the tax code to favor the rich, eroded opportunity for the rest of us, and systematically dismantled democratic rights and unions in the workplace.
This process has fundamentally changed our country from a relatively fair place to one where corporate elites dominate, where more and more people are shut out from the ever-growing wealth of our nation, and where our politics is increasingly polarized. The corporate elite, including Boehner, argue that the way to create jobs is to have even more redistribution of wealth to the rich. This theory doesn’t stand up to common sense or economic analysis, but its remarkable staying power is easy to understand: it justifies the transfer of wealth from working families to well-connected, wealthy political donors. Those donors are then able to further consolidate their wealth and political position, providing generous campaign contributions that pay for ever-more obnoxious (but effective) attack ads.
As working families, we will organize and eventually take back our democracy, however long it takes. If John Boehner would abandon his insider dealing and join us in returning America to working families, we’d be happy to welcome him to our side. If not, we’ll continue to hold him and his supporters accountable for standing against working families, corrupting our democracy and degrading our political discourse.
John Kasich had two words this week for Ohioans who were counting on the innovative 3-C rail program coming to our state: Forget it.
In fact, in the week since he was elected governor of Ohio, Kasich has been on quite a tear. On Wednesday he vowed to send thousands of good-paying Ohio jobs to New York; on Thursday he jeopardized $400 million in public education funding, and yesterday he named a Wall Street good-ole-boy with a public corruption conviction to lead his Inauguration Committee.
I know what you’re thinking, but now is no time to shrug our shoulders and say “we told you so.” Now is the time to fight like dogs against an agenda that threatens working families all across the Buckeye State.
When George Bush was re-elected in 2004, he claimed a mandate from the people, and set his sights squarely on privatizing Social Security. With a fresh term in front of him and Republican control of both houses of Congress, some thought his privatization plan was a done-deal. But progressive activists – with the American people on their side – fought back, and won, and millions of seniors were spared the misery of watching their retirement squandered in the Wall Street collapse.
For those of us who worked so hard for a different result last Tuesday, it’s understandable to feel exhausted, frustrated, and even defeated.But now it’s time to get up off the mat. In just a week’s time, John Kasich has shown us that we’ve got some mighty battles on the horizon. He thinks a narrow victory last week was all he needed to ram his agenda through. He’s counting on us feeling weakened. He’s counting on us staying down.
Let’s tell John Kasich that we’ve got two words of our own: Game on.
This election is for them: for the working class. This election is for the ones that Wall Street forgot about while executives gambled with their pensions and sold them subprime mortgages. The ones who saw their economy come crashing down around them, but stood up, tightened their bootstraps and gave Wall St. the money it needed to survive, only to watch it wasted on bonuses (emphasis on the “us”).
This election isn’t for the “us,” the Old Boy’s Club, the suits and cigars on Wall St fighting any kind of change that might level the playing field, or give a hand up to those who need it. It is not for the corporations pouring money into campaigns in hopes that the tax cuts for the rich will stay the same while services for the working class are slashed to pieces.
This election is for them. It’s for the dads that survived the first round of layoffs, worrying every night about a pink slip, only to be taken down by the second. This election is for John the plumber who fell behind on his mortgage payments when jobs were few and far between. He owed the bank $8,000. Through hard work, scrimping and saving, he managed to pay them $6,000. This election is for the day that John and his family were turned out of their home.
It’s for the moms who had to choose between making a mortgage payment and putting food on the table. This election is for Cheryl, who was told that her son needed a math tutoring program but couldn’t afford it. This election is so education and shelter don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And it’s for the man in New York who read about Cheryl’s plight on this blog and offered to pay for her son’s program.
This election is for the unemployed. It’s for every person that Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett called “lazy.” For Angela who has worked her entire adult life in management and is now applying for minimum wage jobs. Or Howard, who has applied to at least two hundred jobs in the past two years and is constantly told that he is too old or too qualified. This election is for Francine who worked hard to put herself through college and graduate school and now works ten hours a week teaching yoga. This election is for the letter that came in the mail telling her that she made too much to qualify for food stamps.
This is for the ones who don’t have any more time. We were told that it couldn’t be done. Mainstream political thought said that this year was for the Republicans, that Wall St. business would continue as usual, that the unemployed didn’t matter. Maybe, terribly, they are right. But as Election Day gets closer, an amazing thing is happening. The working class is catching up. In some key races, working family friendly candidates are moving up in the polls. Election Day is less than a week away and voters have a simple question: will you stand up for those that Wall Street forgot? Will you be on their side?
In a world where no one joins bowling leagues, where few sewing circles exist anymore, I have written a lot about Working America building communities in neighborhoods. There was the general contractor who hired his struggling neighbor, or the stranger in New York who offered to pay for a young boy’s math tutor. There are the thousands of face to face conversations Working America organizers have with people every night at the door. Bear with me, but I have one more story along that vein. Actually, I have a million stories, but this one happened today.
Last week, ten Working America members met at Angela’s house to discuss the current unemployment crisis and the upcoming elections. Over coffee and muffins, they talked about struggling to make mortgage payments, worrying about buying groceries, and epic battles over life-saving unemployment benefits. They came together from all different situations, but they were all united in struggling with unemployment. They had all been hit by the economic crisis and they were all worried about the future.
But one woman stood out. Liz lost her job a year ago and since then she has been struggling with homelessness. Through the winter, she lived out of her car or, if she was able to scrape the money together, a motel room for a night at a time. Since then, she moved into an apartment and worked on piecing her life together. As of our meeting, she was living without electricity or hot water. Her 16 year old son was sleeping on the floor and she wrapped her own mattress in saran wrap to fight the bed bugs. When she spoke, another member reached out to hold her hand.
A few days later, I met with Angela to discuss today’s event. “I just got off the phone with Liz,” Angela said to me as I walked in her door. She ushered me to the kitchen table and poured me a glass of iced tea. “There must be something we can do for her. I know no one in our group has a lot of money, but maybe if we pool something together…” Angela was in problem solving mode. Although she had been struggling with unemployment for two years, she felt like she could help Liz. Through Working America, she could make one more life better.
Today, our group met again. We talked about the economy, unemployment, and we wrote even more postcards to other unemployed members urging them to vote in their economic favor this election season. And afterwards, Angela presented Liz with some basic necessities that she had collected: towels, dishes, a Halloween decoration for her door.
There it is, another story of community. There was the general contractor who hired his struggling neighbor, or the stranger in New York who offered to pay for a young boy’s math tutor, and now there is the member who bought kitchen supplies for another member to help her get back on her feet.
This week marks my one year anniversary canvassing with Working America. As I reflect back on my year and the thousands of doors I have knocked on, I am reminded of the hard hitting reality of what initially attracted me to this organization.
The reality that all too often in our country the term “working family” is synonymous with single mother. 85% of custodial parents in our country are mothers and 79.5% of single mothers are gainfully employed. Only 5% are receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) according to data released by the US Census Bureau in November 2009. We are not a country of welfare mothers. We are a country of hard working single moms who bear the responsibility of rearing the future of our society.
I watched my mother quit her job at the beginning of the Great Recession in order to care for my terminally ill grandmother. The corporation my mother worked for gave her no options or flexibility to balance the responsibilities that economics and culture caused her to bear. After struggling to find employment, she began working in childcare. Ironically, although prices from childcare are consistently rising at a much higher rate than inflation, she barely earns over minimum wage.
I had to juggle two jobs while helping my family care for my father when he became ill last summer and passed in October. Thankfully, through Working America I was able to take time to grieve and make arrangements. My sister on the other hand, was not so lucky. She works for a large retail corporation and was forced to return to work the same week that our dad died. Now my mother is a single mom raising a teenage boy and a five year old.
So what now? Our unemployment rate is teetering at 10% and state budgets are predominantly cutting services for women and children such as Headstart programs, family planning facilities, adoption services and rape crisis centers. When we take away these services that women and children depend on for their survival, we allow corporate greed to run our country. In PA alone, 70% of corporations don’t pay any income tax at all, while women watch services they depend on get cut, and proposals pass for raising their taxes. These women pay their taxes out of every pay check with much needed money that could be used for necessities such as school supplies, groceries or utility bills.
I have spoken with women who have no electricity in their homes because a home without power is better than no home at all. I have spoken with women who work three minimum wage jobs and still cannot make ends meet because of the sky rocketing prices of childcare. I have spoken with women who have been forced out of the workforce in order to care for ailing family members and cannot find any work to return to once they have lost their loved one.
I watch these injustices plague my mother and every night at the door, I talk to dozens of women dealing with the same issues. My message stays the same, “The solution is simple, strength in numbers. We need to hold our politicians accountable to vote in the best of interest of their constituency. They get to vote on these issues every day. We don’t.”
The working class, or what is left of it, is all too often pushed out of the political process in our country There is no time left in the day and questions of paying bills and buying groceries are more prevalent than what is happening on C-Span. So, I will get up tomorrow and the next day and the next and be proud to take knowledge and action to another mother’s door so she can regain her voice all while making dinner, checking homework and paying bills.
“We have to laugh about it, you know? Because if we didn’t, we would spend all of our time crying.” The truth is, this member meeting has been full of laughter, even as their stories break my heart. I am sitting with Angela and Carmen in Angela’s apartment in suburban Pennsylvania. They are sisters. Both unemployed, both single mothers, both waiting for a break.
Angela and Carmen have always been very close. They spend afternoons (just like we are now) sitting in Angela’s kitchen, drinking homemade iced tea, and talking about the world. They lean on each other when times get tough. But what are you supposed to do when the person you lean on is struggling just as much as you are? Where are you supposed to turn?
Angela was laid off two years ago from her job in management. She sends out applications every week but has been unable to find anything. “At first, I only applied to management positions. I would list my salary requirements as the equivalent of what I was making at my last job. Now, I’ll flip burgers. I’ll make minimum wage.” After working hard for her entire adult life, Angela is struggling to survive. Because of bureaucratic red tape, she has not received unemployment benefits for months. She lost her house; she spent her daughter’s entire college savings. She worries about buying food, and in the winter, how to heat her apartment.
“I pray for a job. I cry watching television, but everywhere I turn, it seems like I am up against a brick wall.” But still, Angela serves us iced tea around her kitchen table and she and Carmen try to fight back that black cloud of unemployment and financial strain hanging over the apartment.
Carmen is a nurse. She was laid off two years ago from another job and decided to go back to school for her nursing degree to ride out the recession. Like most people, she believed that healthcare was a recession proof industry. After working hard through the entire program, she passed her boards and officially became an RN. She took a job at a nursing home but was laid off during her training period when she spoke up about the awful sanitary conditions in the facility. “There were bugs crawling on the patients during the night shift. I was trying to take care of them, but I never got the chance to do what I am supposed to do.”
Now, like her sister, she has been struggling to find a job. After investing almost $100,000 in nursing school, she can’t find anything. Every opening she finds requires 2-3 years experience. “I’ll volunteer during the training period, but no one is willing to give me a chance.” Carmen said that she panics when she thinks about the current unemployment benefits extension expiring in November. “In three months, I will have nothing.”
Not nothing, they will have each other. They have a family where everyone tries to come together. But it is hard when everyone is struggling.
By Leo Gerard — United Steelworkers International President
Glenn Beck made it official on Fox News last week: He’s seeking the office of 21st Century Marie Antoinette.
The queen of France, beheaded during the revolution, attained infamy for insensitivity toward hungry peasants. Glenn Beck, the Fox talk show host, achieved celebrity for his callousness toward unemployed Americans.
Beck leads a pack of royalist Republicans who have spent the summer mocking, vilifying and denigrating the nation’s 14.5 million unemployed workers. It is the moneyed class smacking down the working class in an attempt to disempower and disenfranchise them. Dispirited workers are less likely to vote – which could give Beck and his gang of royalist Republicans control of Congress.
The unemployed, like France’s 18th Century peasants, are fighting back, however. The Union of the Unemployed and Working America are organizing the jobless to vote this fall and to demand help from lawmakers. They’re not out to behead Beck and the royalist Republicans, just dethrone them.
Two and a half years after wanton recklessness by Wall Street banksters crashed the economy, the official unemployment rate remains stuck at 9.5 percent. It rises to 17 percent when statisticians add part-time workers seeking full-time jobs and the jobless who’ve abandoned the search out of hopelessness. With the help of a taxpayer bailout, Wall Street has recovered, and those banksters are taking home multi-million dollar bonuses again. But on Main Street, there still are five unemployed workers for every job vacancy, so no matter how hard the jobless try, there are no openings for 80 percent of them.
Routinely, crowds line up before dawn when job openings are announced. In June, in Longmont, Colo., hundreds queued up to vie for 100 low-paid clerk and stock jobs at a new SmartCo Foods. Hundreds of Louisville residents gathered in the dark on Aug. 9 at the Kentucky Exposition Center to apply for 450 state fair jobs paying $7.25 an hour and lasting a total of 20 days.
In addition to jobs, the people on Main Street are losing their homes and life savings at increasing rates. Bankruptcy filings nationwide reached the highest level in five years between April and June. Banks repossessed 92,858 homes in July, up 6 percent from July 2009. For too many, the situation is so desperate that they’re discussing plans for suicide on an on-line forum for the jobless.
Glenn Beck and the royalist Republicans don’t care about all that. Here’s Beck ranting about those who lose unemployment benefits at 99 weeks:
“Have you heard of the 99ers? These people, some of which I, frankly, I bet you would be ashamed to call them Americans, they think 99 weeks of unemployment benefists are not enough. . .Two years is plenty of time to have lived off your neighbors’ wallets.”
Video of Beck slamming the "99ers" begins at 2 minutes and 33 seconds into this clip.
Beck went on to argue that the jobless who protested last week on Wall Street were not “regular people,” like him and his friends:
“Are they just regular people? . . They are socialists and anti-capitalists.”
Then, incongruously, Beck condemned a protestor seeking jobs for all unemployed workers with a sign asserting, “A job is a right.”
“No, a job is not a right,” insisted Beck, making it clear that in his world, the unemployed are “un-American” for not landing jobs, but, simultaneously, it’s perfectly moral and fair that the American economy has failed to produce enough jobs for them to fill.
Beck is the TV mouthpiece for the royalist Republicans who champion this view: a job is not a right, and it’s not right to aid the jobless. Republicans, virtually as a block, oppose extending unemployment benefits for the jobless while they support extending tax breaks for the moneyed class – themselves. They opposed legislation to save the jobs of 319,000 public servants – the people who educate our children and protect our lives — teachers, police officers, firefighters. Democrats in Congress paid to preserve those jobs by eliminating $11 billion in tax loopholes for corporations that ship jobs overseas — a provision that ultimately could create jobs in the United States.
Like Beck, they’ve announced their loathing for the unemployed. Royalists Jon Kyl, Andre Bauer, Orrin Hatch, and others have derided the unemployed as lazy, spoiled, stupid drug users.
The jobless, however, are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. They’re organizing. The Union of the Unemployed and Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, are mobilizing the jobless.
The Union of the Unemployed is launching a “Bite Back” campaign, targeting those in Congress who tried repeatedly to cut off unemployment insurance and other aid to the jobless. “They will never see us coming,” the first Bite Back ad says, “After all, the politicians whose policies destroyed our lives think we’re ‘lazy’ ‘drug users’ and ‘hobos.’ They are counting on us to be docile as lambs and so depressed we’ll stay in bed on election day.”
Working America, whose members are not in unions but align themselves with the political philosophy of the AFL-CIO, plans to organize hundreds of thousands of the jobless across the nation to vote in workers’ interests. Field organizers will ask the jobless to fill out “Help Wanted” petitions to send to their congressmen and senators asking exactly what they’ve done to create jobs and assist the unemployed.
The jobless removing the royalists from their jobs – nothing could be sweeter, unless this revolution also included dispatching Glenn Beck to his unemployment office.
I recently met with a member who wasn’t a self-described “fan” of unions. She started working when she was twelve years old and was always a hard worker who had good relationships with her fellow workers and her supervisors. She eventually ran her own successful small business and saw little need for unions if workers could solve their problems with management on their own. But, when she had to move for family reasons and leave behind her small business, she started working in corporate America, and the need for unions became clear.
She worked several different jobs and encountered the same basic problem every time: In a word, employers were “heartless.”
“Employers have all the power. The employees have no power. You’re hung out to dry, at their beck and call.”
When she worked at a daycare center she “loved going to work until management made [work] miserable.” Her supervisor started being out all the time. It was put upon the employee to stay in the classroom even if they were on their break time, even if their shift was over, and even if they needed to use the restroom. Management would not take responsibility.
Private conversations could be made into grounds for firing. At another job, she was helping another worker to get through a rough time in his life. He was going through a divorce and had a history of alcoholism. In order to prevent him from spending his nights alone at a bar, she invited him to go bowling with her and her son once or twice a week. Management interfered in the friendship, trying to cast it as an employee dating her supervisor. Their accusations made it difficult for the friendship outside of work to continue.
Once, she used a whistleblower hotline that a company she worked for had set up as a way to give workers a forum to voice their concerns about unfair and unsafe conditions at their work. She wanted her complaint to be anonymous, but the person on the other end of the line made her give her name, saying that she would be fine. She was called into her boss’s office the next day.
But, the worst example of her powerlessness at work happened when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She took off from work to have surgery, and when she came back, there was all new management. Everything had changed. She could feel the new management watching her like a ticking time bomb. They called her in to squeal on a co-worker who management had hired, knowing that he was an alcoholic. She refused to tell them what they already knew, and she was quickly demoted. There were no policies and procedures that management had to adhere to like they made their employees do. Eventually, she was let go and hasn’t been able to find employment since. And even now, while she’s still unemployed, she sees how employers hire part-time employees on unset schedules, denying them the chance to get a second job that many need to be able to make ends meet.
Although she has survived multiple surgeries for her breast cancer, this member told me that the emotional pain caused by her experiences working for corporate America without a voice in the workplace is far worse. “If you had nothing organized in your workplace, employers can do whatever they want… You need it to be a union position in order to have any say in the workplace.”
She’s not asking for any pity or sacrifices from employers. “The economy is so bad. I understand both sides. I understand budget cuts. But, even with budget cuts, [employers] can still give their employees dignity.” Even in a time of economic crisis, dignity and a voice on the job for workers are two things that employers shouldn’t be able to cut.