Austin union members rally for jobs and help for the unemployed

A spirited group of about 70 union members and their supporters marched from Austin City Hall  to the downtown Chase Bank building where they rallied to urge Texas US Senator John Cornyn and other lawmakers to support the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act, which extends unemployment benefits past the 26-week limit.

Without passage of this bill, 2.1 million unemployed workers, including 102,000 in Texas, by February will lose benefits that support them and their families while they look for work. More than 6.1 million will lose benefits by the end of 2012.

The march and rally was organized the Occupy Austin Labor Outreach Committee and endorsed by the Texas AFL-CIO and the Austin Central Labor Council. “We want good, union jobs that put people back to work,” said Snehal Shingavi, Occupy Austin labor magnet. “In the meantime, Congress needs to stop the cuts to unemployment benefits.”

“This is a humanitarian issue,” said Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO. “If this law doesn’t pass, more people will slip into poverty,  more people will go hungry, and more people will spend winter without heat in their homes or on the street with no place to live.”

Finding work in the US has become much more difficult since the Great Recession began in 2007. There are about 6.5 million fewer jobs in the US than there were in 2007 and 4.1 unemployed workers for every available job in the US.

Testifying before the US Senate on December 8, Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project explained why extended unemployment benefits are needed. “The long-term unemployed can’t find jobs because the jobs aren’t there—not because they are not looking or are unwilling to accept pay cuts or relocate,” said Owens.

The lack of jobs is affecting people who have never been out of work for a long time. “I’ve been in the United States for 27 years and never been on unemployment before,” said Miguel Arellano through an English translator at the Austin rally. “I want to work, but the work is not there. If unemployment benefits are cut, it won’t be just workers who suffer, it will be our families too.”

While workers struggle to find work, banks like Chase Bank, where the demonstrators rallied, have done quite well. Chase is owned by JP Morgan Chase, the largest banking corporation in the US. In the first three-quarters of 2011, JP Morgan Chase reported net income of $15.3 billion. In 2010 it reported $17.4 billion in net income.

After the 2008 market crash, JP Morgan Chase received a $25 billion bailout from the US government, which it subsequently repaid with about $2 billion in interest.

Despite its flush bottom line and the assistance it received from US taxpayers to help it manage its own hard times, JP Morgan Chase has been slow to reciprocate the favor. USA Today reported recently that “(JP Morgan Chase) has been cited for rejecting people who were eligible for mortgage modifications three times (by the Treasury Department) since June.” Of the 290,000 people who have tried to work with the bank to modify their mortgages, fewer than half have been successful. The Treasury Department has subsequently refused to pay the subsidy that the bank was supposed to receive for helping people avoid foreclosure.

“The 1 percent like Chase make their profits off the pain of people in the US and all over the world,” Shingavi said.  They have taken away our jobs, cut out health care, looted our pensions, foreclosed on our homes, and their representatives in Congress now want to take away people’s unemployment benefits.

While the December 31 deadline for HR 3346 draws near, Senator Cornyn’s Republican colleagues in the House continue to block passage of the bill.  

The do-nothing Republicans in Congress continue to block anything that will create jobs and get our country back on track, and now they are shrugging their shoulders and holding up important legislation to help the jobless,” said Gerald W. McEntee, AFSCME president in a statement made in Washington DC.

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