'Rebuild America' - Jobs bill gathers steam

From People's Weekly World, 15 February, 1997

NEW YORK - Momentum for enactment of legislation authored by Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-Calif.) to create public works jobs continued to mount last week as the New York City Central Labor Council adopted a resolution calling for enactment of the Jobs Creation and Infrastructure Restoration Act.

Phillip Varrichio, president of Utility Workers Local 1-2, told the World his local was pleased to introduce a resolution endorsing the Martinez Bill to the New York Central Labor Council. "It is pro-labor legislation which is sorely needed to deal with New York's jobless emergency," he said.

Varrichio said the Utilities Workers Union of America had endorsed the legislation because jobs are a major issue for utility workers. "Full-time union-wage jobs with the utility companies used to be a life-time proposition but no more," he said, adding that the labor movement in New York is forming a committee to work for passage of the Martinez Bill.

In a parallel development, several members of the New York City Council introduced a resolution calling upon the council to endorse the legislation. The resolution was referred to the council's Economic Development Committee and is expected to be reported back to the council soon.

New York's action comes on the heels of similar action by the Philadelphia City Council. Endorsements have also come from governing bodies of Los Angeles, St. Louis, Detroit and Jersey City.

In press conference prior to the city council meeting, Guillermo Linares, councilman from the city's Washington Heights area, said he was introducing the legislation because it was "the perfect combination - our infrastructure is falling apart and millions of people are out of work. The Martinez Bill offers the way to solve both problems."

Wendell Foster, who joined with Linares in presenting the resolution, said he didn't believe the country "is so broke that it can't provide for its people. The money can come from where the money comes from," he said, adding, "If we don't do it now, we'll pay an even higher price later."

Councilwoman Una Clarke, who joined Linares and Foster at the press conference, told the World that she supported the Martinez Bill because "public works jobs provide people with a living wage rather than forcing them to work at low-paying jobs in order to receive a welfare check."

Clarke, who represents the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, pointed to the public works programs of the New Deal. "We did it before and we can do it again," she said. "As a matter of fact," she said, "We can improve on what [President Franklin Roosevelt] did. There is no limit to the creativity and ingenuity of the American people."

Art Rodriguez, coordinator of the Los Angeles-based National Labor Coalition for Public Works Jobs, applauded the New York actions. "The fact that we have the nation's two largest central bodies on the bill, one on each coast, means that we can build a bridge that makes it possible for this legislation to become law in the 105th Congress."

Rodriguez, who had just returned from an east coast speaking engagement, said passage of so-called welfare reform made enactment of the Martinez Bill an absolute necessity. "It is a lifeline for millions, including millions of children."

According to Rodriguez, the coalition has lined up the support of some 20 central labor bodies have endorsed the Martinez Bill, among them Los Angeles, San Antonio, Seattle and San Francisco. In addition, the legislation has the endorsement of five state AFL-CIO bodies.

Bill Davis, co-chair of the New York Coalition for Public Works Jobs, told reporters the Martinez Bill authorizes $250 billion over five years for emergency public works jobs. "It provides money for community improvement projects such as schools, housing, hospitals, parks, bridges and environmental clean-up."

The legislation provides for equal opportunity employment, has provisions for job safety and a healthful work environment, union apprenticeship training for young workers and requires that provisions of the Davis Bacon "prevailing wage law" be enforced, Davis said. "Of special interest is its provision for 'project agreements' with AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Councils."

And they earned their money. WPA workers built more than a half-million miles of new roads. They built 75,000 bridges and repaired more than 40,000 more. WPA workers built 6,000 athletic fields and playgrounds, built or repaired 8,000 swimming pools, built 1,700 parks and fairgrounds and nearly 6,000 new school buildings. They exterminated untold millions of rats and other pests and served nearly a million school lunches.

Martinez plans to reintroduce the Jobs Creation and Infrastructure Repair Act during the week of Feb. 24. It has not yet been given a number.

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