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Here are my prepared remarks for a press conference given Labor Day Sept. 5, 2011-
The spirit and meaning of Labor Day was lost a long time ago. Rather than having a day to relax, or a day to celebrate their victories, a great many workers in our city instead are told to go to work just like any other day. Only today we have to walk or take a cab because the buses aren’t running.
But Labor Day the holiday is not the only thing ignored today. What about the original intention of the painful struggle that spawned Labor Day? That struggle gained a 40 hour work week designed to provide enough wages to live on.
So what about a fair day’s work for fair pay today?
Wages are so low that 40 hours a week just won’t make the cut. Many people must work second and third jobs just to get by- that’s 50 and 60 hour work weeks, and that is if people can even get the work!
We talk about the current economic crisis, but we should note that there are human beings in Charlottesville that have been in an economic crisis their entire lives:
-Over one-fifth of our residents live below the poverty level of $22,350 per year for a family of four; (source: US Census 2011)
-Thousands living above the poverty line earn far less than the living wage of $12.01 or $4.40/hr for waitstaff; (source: US Dept of Labor)
-90% of those living below the poverty level here are renters and median rent is around $860 (source: city-data.com); a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment on Fifth Street in Charlottesville rents for $1,250 per month; a two-bedroom, one bath on Barracks Road costs $820 a month; (source: charlottesvillerent.com)
-one in five African-Americans in Virginia are ex-felons and can’t find meaningful work; (source: sentencingproject.org)
-unemployment in Charlottesville is at 5.3 %; (source: US Dept of Labor, July 2011), yet many of those counted as employed are the working poor, and our system of determining unemployment is misleading as to the actual numbers of unemployed, the “real unemployment” rate is much higher;
-a great many of our residents remain under-employed;
-we do not have adequate services to meet the needs of the unemployed, the under-employed, and the working poor.
Our crushing schedules, family burdens, and commuting problems make for difficult home life, and shattered communities.
We cannot simply wish that business-friendly models, tax waivers, and maintaining the status quo will help. Don’t be fooled- It has all been tried before- and are things getting any better?
For more than 40 years this country has had more workers than jobs. This keeps wages low and maintains unemployment. Wages have remained the same for those 40 years (adjusted for inflation) while the profit from production and services has gone up. Those profits are built on low wages, unemployment, and a permanent suffering class.
So you see, it is at the expense of both working people and unemployed people that the bosses benefit. This is why when I refer to the working class I am referring to both groups as it is our toil at work and our suffering through unemployment that make profits for the wealthy.
So I say- Let’s make more jobs, not more suffering.
If we can turn this around into having more jobs than workers then wages will begin to rise- reverse supply and demand so that employers compete for workers instead of human beings competing for low wage jobs.
If we can ensure by action that all residents of Charlottesville can get work then we will be moving towards guaranteeing employment for all.
I have a plan to change the balance of workers to jobs, and to move towards guaranteed employment. In the first year of my term on city council I will take the steps necessary to get us there.
-First, thanks to the perseverance of Holly Edwards, there is now a Section 3 compliance coordinator here. The coordinator makes sure that the city hires a workforce made up of public housing and low income residents when it spends Housing and Urban Development funds. City Council has wisely given the new coordinator the additional task of finding other city contracts and projects that we can use the same model for.
This new program needs funding, support, and attention from city council to succeed. It can put people to work, and provide a living wage but it also needs the input and guidance of those it seeks to serve. I am upset and dismayed that the position has recently been filled with absolutely no input from the Public Housing Association of Residents.
Major public housing upgrades and expansions are coming our way. As many public housing residents as possible should be hired to do the work. The Public Housing Association of Residents needs to be included in the functioning and design of this program, so that city council answers to them in matters that directly affect them. I, for one, will go directly to public housing to ask questions, listen, and take action.
-Second, the city’s ex-offender re-entry jobs program, still in the pilot stage, hires small groups of ex-offenders for public works projects. This program can offer a living wage, job skills and greatly benefit families and entire communities. I will make sure that the program succeeds, and grows: more participants, more time working, more jobs.
Third, and key to my proposal to bring guaranteed employment to Charlottesville- these new programs, combined with the social services and human resources offices, can be the foundation for a “jobs center” in downtown Charlottesville. Where people can find meaningful work both through private employers who pay a living wage of $12.01/hour or $4.40 for waitstaff (source: UVA Living Wage), or directly with the City. Companies who contract with the city, and who offer a living wage can hire a workforce that lives here. Workforce development, job coaching, and temporary employment could be offered and unemployment claims could be filed. We might also explore ways for people to form cooperative businesses with help from the jobs center. An expanded social services “action” committee could ensure that a myriad of services and approaches are offered to all people seeking work.
This can be accomplished in my first year in office, but there is more we can do moving forward.
Our planet is in peril. We can do something about that, and at the same time put many people to work. Remember all of those “green jobs” we keep hearing about? Let’s green our city. Let’s install solar panels and retro-fit all city-owned property. Tell the City’s Environmental Office to make a wish list for green initiatives, and get the work underway.
Let us also upgrade our sidewalks and crosswalks and bike lanes and parks and playgrounds and mass transit. It will improve the quality of life for all of our residents, and put people to work.
As we do these things, we need to ensure that all contracts with the city use a local workforce and pay a living wage.
These upgrades and infrastructure improvements, like the public housing upgrades, will receive outside funds, lets make sure those funds go to a local workforce for decent pay. We will have to use our own revenue as well, but I believe a majority of our residents are in favor of building a more sustainable city, a more friendly city for people with disabilities and senior citizens, one with a world class public transportation system, and one where all people have meaningful employment.
But public works projects and a jobs center are only one part. We also need more private sector jobs that pay well, offer benefits, flexible scheduling, and a promising future.
A promising future does not destroy the present. A research park or bio-tech facility is all fine and good, but they employ people with specific skill sets, often from out of town. Their good salaries and new housing developments drive up the cost of living: your water and sewer bills, your infrastructure repairs, your real-estate assessments, your rent, and for the most part will not employ people who live here and may not have the specific skill sets required.
We need businesses that are friendly are to our needs. We’ve already tried having government that’s friendly to business. The people of Charlottesville want a better deal. Offering tax incentives and other giveaways to lure business here has been tried over and over again and nothing has changed. Instead of asking what city government can do for business, let’s see what business and government can do for people.
A starting point- the biggest business in Charlottesville is the University of Virginia. To serve its faculty and students, the University holds down wages and contracts out many of its services. And everyone suffers. It accepts more students than it can accommodate. They have to live somewhere, which fosters another kind of housing development, with inflated rents. If the university doesn’t offer a living wage with built-in cost-of-living increases for direct and contracted employees, I invite all city councilors and city residents to join me in civil disobedience along with Workers and Students United to win a living wage at UVA.
Elect me to City Council on November 8.
I am focused on labor and the needs of the many disadvantaged people in this town.
I have lived in Charlottesville my entire life, I know what it is to work for less than a living wage, to rely on public transportation, to need assistance.
I am the only candidate who demands the elimination, rather than the alleviation, of poverty, unemployment, and ecological degradation.
Don’t ease it; cure it.
The establishment candidates pay lip service to the needs of residents and workers, but they, and their party, have yet to do anything meaningful.
Anyone interested in social justice should vote for a city council that will push a progressive agenda that respects and demands attention to human needs and ecological sanity rather than the needs of developers and the wealthy. To have a majority on council working towards these ends means electing at least one independent, one who is dedicated to the needs of the working class and social justice. I can make a real difference. I ask for your vote and support on Tuesday, November 8.
In the spirit of Labor Day I would like to remind you all that we are all regular people who toil for the benefit of others, those others, the wealthy, have gained their riches either by chance of birth or by the extraction of wealth through our toil in the workplace and our suffering through unemployment. Labor Day is a time for us to stand together and recognize that we have the power to change our lot in life.
to help organize for a better deal for workers in Charlottesville check out these links:
UVA Living Wage
Cville Workers Action Network
Socialist Party of Central Virginia
Industrial Workers of the World (Richmond Branch)