Unemployed hold vigil

PHILADELPHIA – On Dec. 27 dozens of unemployed workers and their supporters gathered in front of Pennsylvania Career Links, the Unemployment Office here, to call for the extension of the Temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program, which was passed in March 2002. Congress adjourned without renewing the TEUC Program.

The “Vigil for Justice for the Jobless” was organized by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP). On Dec. 28 unemployment benefits ran out for 46,500 workers in Pa. and over one million nationwide.

The first speaker at the vigil, Rev. Robin Hynicka from the Frankford Group Ministry, opened with a prayer for our leaders to do the right thing for the jobless and extend benefits. “Times are tough in Philadelphia and around the country,” said Hynicka. “People want to work. They don’t want to depend on family and friends. They are part of the community and need help.”

Darnell Tanksley was first laid off from a job in the telecommunications industry and more recently from a retail job. Said Tanksley, “I don’t see any of our leaders standing up for the rights of unemployed workers. We paid into the fund for years. I used to think I could be independent, but now I know we have to stand up in unity and that’s why I’m here today.”

Tanksley said he had to tell his 7-year-old son there would be no Christmas this year. His benefits ran out before Dec. 28.

Nick Note, an unemployed environmental worker, carried his small child in his arms and asked, “If the U.S. can afford a trillion dollar war, why can’t it afford to extend our benefits?”

The Vice President of United Auto Workers Local 2255 said he was there in support because he knows what it’s like to be unemployed and to be without benefits. He has had the experience five times. “Our government must get its priorities straight and not invest all its money in cruise missiles, etc. The unemployed need benefits.”

Linda Bissenger, a laid-off retail worker, said losing her benefits three days after Christmas was difficult for her and her son. “I want to work,” said Bissinger. “We don’t want sympathy, we deserve the extension.”

Bruce, representing International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58, told the crowd that 12 percent of the electricians are unemployed and that many of the building trades members are facing similar conditions. “We need government to create jobs as well as continue unemployment benefits,” he said.

John Dodd, director of PUP, said, “With unemployment currently at its highest level since the onset of the recession, the end of extended benefits during the holiday season is an absolute disgrace.”

Dodd said PUP is calling for an additional 13-week extension for workers still unemployed who have already exhausted their TEUC, and 26 total weeks for those who have yet to exhaust their state benefits but lost TEUC on Dec. 28. PUP also wants the elimination of federal taxes on unemployment compensation as part of any tax cut plan in the new Congress. Dodd said PUP would be going to Washington D.C. this month to talk to senators.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net