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IBEW Members Step up Activism on Unemployment Benefits


December 8, 2011

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Members of Washington, D.C., Local 26 participate in week-long mobilization to gain congressional support for extending unemployment benefits.

With time running out for Congress to act on extending unemployment benefits, jobless workers are speaking out and showing up in the nation’s capital, including some unemployed members of the IBEW.  If Congress fails to act before Dec. 31, nearly 2 million people will lose unemployment benefits in January.  Without action in 2012, at least six million could be without benefits.

On Dec. 1, 2000 unemployed workers kicked off a week of activities by presenting 75,000 petitions to Congress at a rally.  The petition campaign was organized by the AFL-CIO, the National Employment Law Project, USAction and MomsRising.org.

The week of action, ends on Dec. 8 with a prayer vigil outside the Capitol, included lobbying at lawmakers’ offices across the country.

 Ronald “Todd” Sheally, a 30-year inside journeyman wireman member of Cumberland, Md., Local 307, attended the Dec. 1 rally along with members of Baltimore Local 24 and Washington, D.C. Local 26. 

Sheally, who has only worked 16 weeks in 2011, formerly worked in a nearby paper mill for a signatory contractor before the mill’s owner—pressured by imports from China—declared  Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The contractor pulled out its forces.   “It makes me sad,” says Sheally, “that we have a country full of unemployed skilled tradesmen that other countries would love to have.” He adds:

A lot of people don’t understand what it’s like to be a construction worker.  We can’t have full employment because our employers need to have extra people on the bench for the contractors when jobs come open.  During [times of extended unemployment], I would have lost everything I have without unemployment benefits. I’d rather be working than collecting benefits, but I need to cover my bills.

At the kickoff rally, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), said:

This issue challenges the soul of America… This [unemployment benefit extensions] isn’t a subject for horse-trading.  It’s a subject for action.

Unemployed workers in town for the week of action  linked up with members of the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest on K Street, calling attention to the domination of U.S. politics by corporations employing  lobbyists who have offices in that area of the city.

In a story on the protests in the Kansas City Star, Eric Braddock, 28 of Lumberton, N.J. , who is employed as an illustrator,  spoke about his parents, ages 55 and 65, who have lost their jobs.  He said;

I want them to have a sense of pride again and not just wander around the house feeling worthless and embarrassed that they can’t get a job.  I can see it in their faces, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking for me to see that every day.  We just need somebody in charge to think about people like my parents for a change.  I believe that Congress is focused in entirely the wrong direction.

The AFL-CIO has launched a Web site for unemployed workers to tell their stories about how unemployment has affected their lives and those of their family, friends, community or the United States as a whole.

Another site, the Unemployment Lifeline helps jobless workers seek resources that can assist them in the midst of personal economic turmoil.

Sheally is hopeful that the week’s activities and support from other Americans will lead to a renewal of unemployment benefits. He says:

It hurts being a father and not being able to provide.  And it’s hard to get a job when the business that hires you knows that you will go back to work as soon as you get a call from the union hall.  I’ve led a modest life, but I have everything I need thanks to the IBEW.  I have a big heart.  I don’t want to see other families struggle.  Workers [who don’t have a lot of experience with unemployment] were told if they work hard, they will make it.  Now they need help.


Photo credit: Kim Tyrrell