Local 24 Member Tells House Leaders: Extend Unemployment Benefits
December 9, 2013
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi greets Baltimore Local 24 member Stan Osnowitz before his testimony to Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
Stan Osnowitz, an unemployed journeyman electrician member of Baltimore Local 24, said he hates being unemployed. “It is a waste of my abilities. I love being an electrician,” he says. Out of work since July after working for three years straight, Osnowitz is one of more than two million unemployed job seekers who could lose federal jobless aid if Congress does not act to extend it before the end of the year.
On Dec. 5, Osnowitz drove to Washington to address members of a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee who are countering efforts of Republican legislators against the extension of up to year and a half of a half of benefits for unemployed workers even after their state benefits have run out. The program was instituted in 2008 in response to the nation’s economic crisis.
“I have been unemployed since July, but I still get up between 4 and 4:30 every morning to actively pursue work through my union and elsewhere,” said Osnowitz, countering the right-wing narrative that unemployment insurance “makes workers lazy.”
“Construction work is hard to find in the winter, and outside of my industry, from what I’ve seen, potential employers see my age (67) and look right past me,” said the 43-year member who helped establish “24 Brotherhood,” a group that supports members who are unemployed or facing other troubles. The group’s fundraising efforts have helped pay the dues of out-of-work members to head off a lapse in benefits.
Osnowitz joined a panel with other unemployed workers and experts, including the executive director of the National Employment Law Project and a representative of Catholic Charities. The hearing, before Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and several members of the House Progressive Caucus, was televised on C-Span.
The number of long-term unemployed workers in September—4.1 million—is higher than in any month during the Great Recession, which ended in June 2009, reports AFL-CIO Now in a story on the steering and policy committee meeting.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) was moved to tears by the testimony of Lisa Floyd, unemployed after losing her job as a volunteer services director at a West Virginia hospice. Floyd, who grew up living in an apartment, recounted how, without the support of unemployment insurance, she would have lost the house she worked so hard to save for. She has found a new job after months of intense searching, but said she was speaking for others who are still sending out resumes with no results.
Osnowitz said it felt good to let the members of Congress know how he and others feel about losing benefits when jobs are still so hard to find.
“Don’t allow them to shut down [unemployment benefit extensions],” Osnowitz told representatives. “People like me won’t even have money to put gas in our cars to go looking for jobs. How would that help solve the problem?” he asked.
Responding to Republicans who say they don’t “have the appetite” for increasing unemployment benefits, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.)—who introduced Osnowitz—said, “Instead of talking about appetites, we should be talking about hunger,” the hunger of 1.3 million Americans for good jobs, the “literal hunger” that goes with reduced income and the “hunger that we should have as a country and an economy for putting people back to work.”
Like other industrial cities, Baltimore is suffering, says Local 24 President Carmen Voso. Major plants owned by the likes of Bethlehem Steel, General Motors and Lever Brothers have shut down and many local union members have been forced to travel far from home for work. “I remember the days when I was on the road and my children were tugging on me on Sunday night asking me to stay home,” says Voso.
Even if unemployment benefits are restored, says Voso, federal and state benefits only amount to half of what electricians would be making on the job. “We need the benefits, but we don’t want to go back to the recession of 1977 where we told members to expect to be out of work for two years,” he says.