February 2012

Voices of the Unemployed
Maine Member Tells Senator:
'The Wolf is at the Door'
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Nathan Belanger's car has 196,000 miles on the odometer. He is paying $590 a month for COBRA medical coverage for his family of five. He's borrowed from his retirement savings to make necessary repairs to his West Bath, Maine, home. And he's been forced to neglect his children's college fund.

A 13-year inside journeyman wireman member of Portland Local 567, Belanger, an apprentice instructor, has been working on and off for three years. He says, "I thank my lucky stars for unemployment benefits." In early December, when House and Senate Republicans threatened to cut those benefits, Belanger first got angry. Then he answered a call to action and traveled to Washington, D.C., to deliver a stern message to our nation's leaders.

After participating in the National Prayer Vigil for Unemployment Insurance and Jobs, Belanger set up a personal face-to-face meeting with his senator, Olympia Snow (R). The extraordinary meeting lasted 45 minutes, says IBEW Political and Legislative Department International Representative Dan Gardner, who accompanied Belanger to the meeting.

"I was amazed that Sen. Snowe spent so much time with Nathan," Gardner said. The senator listened intently as Belanger challenged proposed cuts in unemployment benefits, congressional support for trade agreements that have contributed to the devastation of our nation's manufacturing sector and privatization proposals that would put Social Security at risk.

"I feel that Sen. Snowe heard and understood the plight that we face as a nation," says Belanger. Gardner says Snowe reminded them that she opposed the privatization of Social Security and several trade agreements and that she supports the need to extend unemployment benefits.

"People at my level are very bitter, but I choose to be active. We're being taken for a horrible ride in our country," says Belanger, who told Snowe that a nation cannot prosper if less than 15 percent of its gross domestic product is invested in manufacturing. "My skill level means nothing if I have nothing to build, repair or maintain."

On a questionnaire circulated to participants prior to the prayer vigil, asking them to describe the challenges of joblessness, organizers asked if those gathered would be willing to tell their stories to the public and the news media. Belanger answered, "Please!" Then, he detailed what he would ask lawmakers on national TV:

"You ask of us our sweat, our blood, our tears, our children! But you as lawmakers sit upon this hill and have the best retirement, health care, and expense packages in our great nation. You ask us to part with our 'entitlements'…When will we as a nation see sacrifice from Washington? To be a politician in this country is synonymous with wealth. Politicians ask us to sacrifice … When will we see the same efforts from those people who govern us and already have it all? Give up a little to save this nation and set the bar. Is that not leadership?"

Portland, Maine, Local 567 member Nathan Belanger at Kibby Mountain, the largest wind power project in Maine. Work is hard to find for the 13-year member who traveled to Washington, D.C., in early December and met with Sen. Olympia Snow (R) to address the situation facing hundreds of thousands of jobless U.S. workers.