KENNEDY ON ECONOMIC CRISIS, IMPACT ON WORKERS
Speaks before the Massachusetts Building and Construction Trades
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Thank you so much, Frank, for that warm introduction, and I welcome all of you to Washington.
It's a privilege and an honor to address the members of our Massachusetts Building Trades. You're the ones who build our communities so well -- our homes, our schools, our roads, our bridges, and our office buildings. You've worked hard as well to build a better life for yourselves and your families in our Commonwealth. Now, we also need your help in rebuilding this great nation of ours.
The plain truth is that our country is headed in the wrong direction. Every day brings fresh evidence of the problem.
Our economy no longer works for working people. Last month, employers cut 80,000 more jobs. The total jobs lost this year is now 232,000.
I don't have to tell you that the construction industry has been hit especially hard, with 50,000 jobs cut in the last month alone, and this situation is likely to keep getting worse unless we act.
We know what needs to be done. It's time to make our economy work again for Main Street, not just for Wall Street. Democrats understand that working people come first -- that any recovery must start with helping those who built this country.
The first thing we must do is provide immediate help to families who are suffering. We need to extend the duration of unemployment benefits, to help the nearly 8 million Americans who've lost their jobs and can't find work. These vital benefits help families stay afloat in this sinking economy. They're also a strong stimulus for the economy, as all economists agree. It's only fair that workers who have paid into the unemployment system year after year receive the support they need today when times are tough. That's why extending UI benefits is such a high priority for Democrats in Congress now.
We also need to jumpstart our economy by creating good jobs, with decent wages and benefits. The fastest way to do so is to invest in our country's infrastructure. Tens of thousands of skilled construction workers are ready, willing and able to go to workon billions of dollars of needed school, road and bridge repairs that could begin tomorrow. Every billion dollars we invest in such infrastructure creates as many as 47,000 new jobs. These projects not only create jobs, they also boost the economy. That's why immediate action by Congress is needed to fund them.
There are many other things we also need to do to help families make it through the current crisis. But you and I know that the problems facing working families have much deeper rootsand to address them, we need to take our country in a new and better direction. Democrats taking control of Congress was an important first step, and because of your support to get us there, we've already made significant progress.
First, we're continuing the fight to reverse the anti-worker, anti-labor, anti-union policies of President Bush and the previous Republican Congresses. Defending workers' rights - especially the right to join a union - is one of the most effective ways to fight for the middle class.
You and I know that unions make an enormous difference in the lives of millions of Americans. Union workers earn 25 percent more than non-union workers. They are more likely to have health care and other benefits, and they have greater job security. In countless ways, unions make jobs good jobs.
No employees should have to fear losing their jobs if they want to join a union to bargain for a safer workplace, better benefits, and higher wages. That's why I'm proud to be leading the fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Republicans have blocked us so far in this Congress, but we're not going to let them win.
We also need to pass the RESPECT Act, Senator Dodd's bill to restore collective bargaining rights for millions of hardworking employees in the building trades who have been unfairly labeled "supervisors" by their employers. It's time to give these workers back their voice in the workplace.
A critical next step is to end another type of worker misclassification. Too many renegade employers, especially in the construction industry, improperly treat workers as independent contractors and cheat them out of the wages, benefits and protections they deserve. When this happens, responsible contractors and working families lose out. That's why I'm fighting for legislation to level the playing field, and bring real help to countless workers and contractors whose employers refuse to play by the rules.
We're also fighting for worker safety. It's more than thirty years after passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, yet too many workers are still being killed and injured on the job - many of them in the construction industry.
Even worse, we see more and more examples of employers with a history of problems that OSHA does nothing to stop. Even when a worker is killed on the job, the employer often gets away with a fine of only a few thousand dollars. I've introduced legislation to end this lax enforcement and increase the penalties for employers who ignore the law.
Equally important, we need to continue to reject current Republican schemes to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act and its prevailing wage protections. Last year, the GOP even tried to eliminate Davis-Bacon for the construction and repair of our nation's bridges. Thankfully for the safety of the American people and the protection of workers, we defeated them and proved that a clear majority of Senators support this important law.
The building and construction trades have been in the forefront of all these battles over the years, and I'm moved by all you've done. You've brought millions of men and women together to create a better life for themselves, their families, and for all Americans. In these difficult economic times, our country needs you more than ever.
I know you'll continue to be the strong and united voice of working families as we continue our battle for progress and fairness. We need you to stand with us in our fight to take back the White House in November and expand our Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Believe me, we've only just begun to fight, and I look forward very much to success in November and the progress we'll be able to achieve together in the years ahead. Thank for all you do so well - thank you very much.