Rally promotes support for workers affected by terrorism

by Shira Kantor

Airline industry workers rallied at the State Capitol on Sunday alongside workers from other sectors who have felt the economic strain following the New York and Washington, D.C., attacks to call for state and federal support in the face of layoffs and a faltering economy.

About 200 sign-toting labor union members gathered on the Capitol steps to hear local political and labor leaders speak about the urgent need for government support.

Minnesota Democratic Sens. Mark Dayton and Paul Wellstone, Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., and Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development commissioner Rebecca Yanisch joined local labor union officials to express their dissatisfaction at what they see is a lack of immediate federal response.

Wellstone advocated two steps he said are vital to the recovery of the suffering air industry and support industries: immediate aid for affected workers and a larger, overall work force recovery package to push the national economy in a positive direction.

Wellstone called for swift income support and unemployment benefits including health and child care needs, as well as job training for displaced workers.

“These are hard economic times and there’s a lot of people in Minnesota and around the country that may not be directly employed by the aviation industry, but they, too, are out of work now,” Wellstone said. “And there’s a lot of small businesses that have just been clobbered by the recession.”

Wellstone said he didn’t think the federal support the airline industry received was unwarranted, but he feels workers in other industries have been ignored.

“We’re going to need to put together in Washington a strong economic stimulus package,” Wellstone said. “And part of that emphasis needs to be on the work force.”

At a time when members of Congress are divided on whether to move forward on the domestic agenda, Wellstone is pushing to include measures directly benefiting industry workers in every industry-related bill to reach Congress in coming months – including airline security.

“Every piece of legislation that comes up … I’m going to have an amendment that’s going to provide for the employees,” he said. “Most important of all is helping people afford health care coverage.”

Sabo, a DFLer who represents the 5th Congressional District and who last week was appointed to a 25-member Homeland Security Task Force in response to the attacks, spoke of moving forward in a bipartisan manner to heal ailing industries.

“We had a real reminder on Sept. 11 that there are real heroes in America,” he said. “But we also had a real reminder of our vulnerability and a reminder of our need for each other.”

Sabo recognized the economic slowdown prior to the attack, saying it is even more important now to pass economy-stimulating legislation.

“I am hopeful that before the next couple of weeks are over, that a meaningful package will clear the House and pass the Senate and be signed by the president,” Sabo said.

Yanisch noted staff at the Minnesota Dislocated Workers program recently applied for $24 million in emergency federal aid from the Department of Labor for
workers who have felt the impact of the tightening economy.

“Please know that the state of Minnesota is your partner as we look at mitigating the pain from the tragedy,” Yanisch said, “but also – bottom line – to ensure that we all get back to our jobs as soon as possible, at equitable pay, in a manner that we’re all proud of.”

Airport baggage handler Kip Hedges, president of Machinists Local 1833, which represents 8,000 airline workers in Minnesota and the upper Midwest and 7,000 Northwest Airline workers in Minnesota, said dramatic changes in the airline industry will require a strong grassroots effort to protect industry workers’ jobs and interests.

“What I see coming scares me,” Hedges said. “There’s a freight train heading right at me and every other airline worker in this country, and I want to make sure I don’t get run over.”


Shira Kantor encourages comments at [email protected]