OAKLAND, Calif. - Steve Lipton worked as a plumber for over 25 years - the last 16 with the same employer; the last eight as a general foreman. And then one day in January 2009, he was abruptly laid off.
Though he has searched for work through every available avenue, Lipton said, he has found nothing. "Now I depend on unemployment benefits and the generosity of my faith community, to support my household," he told elected officials, city workers and members of the faith-based Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) who gathered at City Hall June 3 to urge support for H.R. 4812, the Local Jobs for America Act.
As he and other displaced workers face the end of unemployment benefits and COBRA health coverage extensions, Lipton said, Oakland and other cities are caught up in a vicious cycle of budget deficits, layoffs, revenue shortfalls and service cuts.
"I believe the Local Jobs for America Act is the answer," he said. "We need H.R. 4812 to keep our families and our city afloat, because only in a functional city can residents thrive, businesses grow and new employees be hired. That's the light at the end of my tunnel."
H.R. 4812, introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., would provide $100 billion to local governments, community-based organizations and states to save and create local jobs, to hire and retain firefighters and police, to help states support education jobs and to fund on-the-job private sector training positions. The measure now has 161 co-sponsors, and is backed by all San Francisco Bay Area House members.
Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has announced he will introduce a companion bill in the Senate.
OCO leader Rev. George Cummings pointed out that like many cities across the country, Oakland's unemployment far exceeds the national average of 10 percent. "In East Oakland the figure is 18 percent and among African American men and women that figure is closer to 30 percent," he said.
If H.R. 4812 passes, Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums told the crowd, the $133 million Oakland would receive over two years would let the city keep and rehire workers, and would let community-based organizations hire staff to provide services.
House Republicans and conservative Democrats say the bill will contribute to the deficit, Dellums said. "Well, we know that when you want to spend money, you can step around the deficit. When you choose not to want to spend money, you use the deficit as an excuse," he added, noting that the issue didn't arise when Congress voted to bail out Wall Street.
While President Obama has highlighted the need for jobs, Dellums said, he has not yet weighed in on the bill. "We need to tell the White House that you need to be with us on this issue, because if you want to get to Main St., saving the cities and towns, their services and employees, is vitally important."
With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan costing over $1 trillion so far, added City Councilmember Jean Quan, "We can afford to bring some of that money and start to fight the war here at home."
Also speaking were Councilmembers Jane Brunner and Rebecca Kaplan, city worker and union leader Andrea Turner, and Tyrone Jackson, an emancipated foster youth and college student, who told the crowd, "A job would change my life so I can provide instead of always receiving."
Rally organizers called on participants to urge Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to support the Senate companion bill, and to ask family and friends around the country to help build support for the measures in their areas.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel