What’s gone wrong, America?” ask jobless


CHICAGO - "It's disappointing. America is my home. What's gone wrong?" asked Leroy Smith, a laid off Chicago bus driver. "I'm through being patient. We need the government to put us back to work now."

"You're not alone in this fight. So many people are laid off but sometimes you think you're the only one," said Darrell Jefferson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241. Over 1,100 transit workers were laid off in February that has crippled transit service and thrown families into crisis.

Smith and Jefferson were testifying to a Chicago Workers Rights Board hearing April 28 about the jobless and budget crisis gripping the city, state and nation.

"The ATU is doing a great job of supporting others in their struggle. The transit crisis is not just here. It's a national problem. ATU Local 241 will be in this fight," he said.

The Workers Rights Board heard a broad array of moving testimony from workers, veterans, immigrants and academics that illustrated in very stark and personal terms the horrible impact of the economic crisis.

Mel Rothenberg of the Chicago Economic Planning Group said 30 million working aged people are unemployed or underemployed.

Rothenberg said only the federal government can create jobs on a scale that is needed. He called for jobs creation through a financial transaction tax (FTT) on Wall Street speculators. A FTT of .25% on stocks and .10% on currency and debt trading could have raise $750 and $1.2 trillion during each of the past five years.

Eugene Cherry is an Iraq war vet. He knows first hand the tribulations of hundreds of thousands of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars into an economic crisis at home.

"Companies aren't as willing to hire you. Many vets came back, but couldn't get their old jobs back," said Cherry, who like many vets has suffered from PTSD. "We can't find jobs - there simply are none."

This has compounded the crisis among vets, who are suffering extremely high rates of suicide. Cherry said the Veterans Administration is inadequate in dealing with veterans who come back with many issues. The Obama Administration domestic spending freeze makes it impossible to help people in need.

The economic crisis is having a particularly sharp impact on disabled Americans, whose unemployment hovers at 80%. Donna Shaw, a member of Disabled Americans Want Work Now! described how she was laid off from her bank job a year ago and has been unemployed since. She said her employer refused to provide her with the things she needed to do her job.

"The bank has deep pockets, but never provided a sign language interpreter for any of the mandatory weekly meetings and trainings," said Shaw. "This was a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Shaw said people with disabilities must struggle with discrimination in hiring and on the job. The result is disabled Americans experience high levels of poverty.

The jobless crisis is also allowing employers to get away with union busting and threatening immigrant workers with deportation. Mary Constantino worked as a bagger at Pete's Fresh Market for two years. She got fed up with harassment and sexual discrimination on the job and along with her fellow workers turned to UFCW to organize her workplace.

"I was fired for organizing. This is so unjust. All we wanted was better working conditions and better wages to provide for our families," she said. "They threaten to call ICE. Many workers are afraid to denounce what happened," she said.

But Constantino like all the others who testified vows to fight for jobs at a living wage and with a voice at the workplace. They are not afraid or intimidated.

"I'm not going to resign myself to a life of indentured servitude, which is what Wall Street is asking us to do," declared Stephanie DeBose, a carpenter and union member who has been unemployed for three years. "We have to get active and make our voices heard."

Photo: John Bachtell  Stephanie DuBose, carpenter and member of International Carpenters Union testifies at Chicago Workers Rights Board hearing, April 28. DuBose has been unemployed for 3 years.




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  • Thank the Political Class for allowing the Manufacturing Jobs to transfer out of the U.S. to Mexico, China,India and so on and so on. The transformation from a manufacturing base to an information explosion has left those under educated and unprepared for change at the mercy of the elements.
    The Housing Collapse was the results of Government Policy forcing the Banks to allow people unqualified to purchase homes access to easy money. The Sub- Prime flop was the lack of over site on the Big Boys creating the mess and gambling on the faiolure of their own policies.
    Why do you think the very people in GOVERNMENT POLICY MAKING who created the problems we are facing can fix them.
    The POLITICAL CLASS and their benefactors will keep their wealth while spreading good cheer and the illusion of redistribution of wealth among the willing idiots who are their serfs.
    When the workers realize the shaft they are getting from the Politicians of both parties and put America first in the world nothing will really change.

    Posted by SwampFox2U, 05/04/2010 2:04pm (6 years ago)

  • The hypocrisy of right wing ideology never ceases to amaze me. It's ok for the government to come to the aid of GM, Chrysler, Chase Manhattan, Wells Fargo, etc, etc, but it's wrong to help out U.S. workers! Such stupidity!

    The parasites at Wall Street are clearly to blame for the economic disaster we are in today. Workers have been laid off, lost their homes, lost their healthcare benefits.
    Local school systems, city and state governments are having to lay off and cut back needed services due to Wall Street greed! THIS IS THE REAL CRIME!

    If the federal government can bail out the corporate parasites, surely it can bail out America's working people too!

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 05/04/2010 12:36pm (6 years ago)

  • "attendance"

    His "job" was "cut due to government budget cuts"? Sorta' sounds like the type of "job" that really wasn't a productive job to begin with, doesn't it? As for being "rallied against through meetings, protest, service cuts, etc"....well, what can I say? Got a bent against MEANINGFUL work, do ya'? Think "protests" and such makes up for the REAL thing? As for those "movers and shakers" NOT being "the sit-on-your-ass types who whine", well perhaps you're right....they sound more like the type who want to sit on OTHERS asses and whine. I.e. - the "change" they want, they want OTHERS to pay for.

    Sorry, but I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for those - apparently like yourself - who's answer to a problem such as this is railing against OTHERS not providing a solution FOR them. As for "the most any meeting or hearing could do", what's wrong with "providing" for one's SELF? Why is it always someone ELSE's obligation to provide the solution?

    Always the demand for the proverbial "free lunch". Rather frightening, if truth be told.

    Posted by Ken Meyer, 05/02/2010 6:10am (6 years ago)

  • You would have had to been there Ken, Leroy was gainfully employed for years. His job was cut due to government budget cuts, that were rallied against through negotiations, hearings, meetings, protests, service cuts, etc. No one at this meeting in Chicago, are the sit-on-your ass types, who whine. They pretty much were all movers and shakers. The handicap people were some of the most active, who spend 365 days a year working for change, and making it to any minimum wage job where they are treated like shit. The most any meeting or hearing could do, out of respect for the numerous handicap people who got themselves there with no help and no pity, is to provide a sign language interpreter. There's tons of ideas that provide solutions of how people could get back to work, which you would know about if you weren't one of the lazy pessimistic people who just rant from a comment box on the internet.

    Posted by In attendance, 05/01/2010 11:46am (6 years ago)

  • Re: the comment of....

    "I'm through being patient. We need the government to put us back to work now."

    ....sounds like what he "needs" is to show a little initiative, and not demand that the "government" relieve him of his personal obligations and responsibilities.

    It would be real refreshing sometimes to hear such people talk about ways in which they could PROVIDE employment and other services instead of listening to their constant whining that society, or the government, or whatever (i.e. - anyone else except themselves) should be at their beck and call.

    Yeah, no doubt Leroy is "through being patient". Unfortunately, there are far too many similarly situated people who always seem to be "through being patient" as well.... at least in terms of demanding that proverbial "free lunch".

    Maybe Leroy could train himself to become a "sign language interpreter" in order to hire himself out to those firms who are so often required by the "government" he's petitioning to resolve nickel problems with dollar solutions? Sound like a plan?

    Posted by Ken Meyer, 05/01/2010 6:58am (6 years ago)

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