By Jerry Waxman
As submitted to the Huffington Post
Orlando, FL. Feb. 22 After a sustained two month period of unseasonably cold and damp weather it began to warm up in Central Florida. I thought at times “so, this is what it’s like to live in London.” On the weather front beginning on Sunday the breezes were again balmy and temperatures got to the point that you didn’t need a jacket or sweater to venture out. The power and energy companies have had a good winter so far; many Floridians, not used to such cold weather, had their heat on for weeks at a time and got bills that made their eyes pop. Abnormal weather patterns aside, there is a lot of heat building up among Florida’s labor unions.
Florida’s economy has not fared well during the past two years of recession and leadership in Tallahassee has been nonexistent. Nor has the federal government given Florida more than mere lip service. The work that has been available, such as the new VA hospital in East Orange County was supposed to be built under a Project Labor Agreement. President Obama signed Executive Order 13502 on Feb. 6, 2009 which specified that work on these projects should be done by Veteran owned companies. The companies were supposed to hire veterans under the project known as “Helmets to Hard Hats”, a way of getting veterans back into society with good jobs. Congressional representatives in the immediate area, Alan Grayson, Corrine Brown and Suzanne Kosmas signed letters of support, but virtually to no avail. Don’t ask any of the construction trade unions or veterans looking for work how things fared for them without having earplugs available. The new initiative, Putting Florida Back to Work, will concentrate on getting decent jobs for Florida. Today’s press conference was held on the Orlando City Hall steps specifically to inform Florida’s two senators, Richard Lemieux and Bill Nelson that a robust jobs bill is a vital necessity for Florida. Similar events will be held on Feb 23 in Miami and Jacksonville, leading up to Saturday when the combined unions will hold a “Save Our Space Jobs” rally in Titusville, Florida in order to bring attention to what most Central Florida residents consider a vital industry.
At 12:30 PM as people gathered for the event the sky was sunny and clear. As the 1:00 start time approached the sky became increasingly dark gray, but symbolism and ominous portents notwithstanding, the event was definitely upbeat. Paul Wilson, president of the Central Florida CLC, spoke about Florida’s expected three billion dollar budget shortfall and the economic impact that will follow. “The recession is much deeper than anyone imagined, and unless we act now to stave off our budget shortfalls and get people back to work it is going to start unraveling again,” said Wilson. Wilson also stated that Titusville was selected because it was the “epicenter” of the Florida jobs crisis. Recent decisions by the Obama Administration have left a void in the future of manned space flight turning over many of those components to private contractors. “This is an economic atomic bomb being dropped on Titusville and the rest of the space center that will destroy the community and send shockwaves across the state,” added Wilson.
The next speaker, Joshua Leclair of AFSCME Council 79 said “Some in Congress think the way out of this recession and towards jobs growth in Florida and Orlando is to slash budgets and to lay off public employees like teachers, fire fighters, nurses and transportation workers but this makes no sense; you can’t grow jobs by cutting jobs.” Leclair also warned that not addressing the budget shortfalls another three million jobs could be lost. Leclair cited economist Mark Zandi, former advisor to John McCain, stating that every dollar invested in the public sector returns 1.4 to the economy.
Jennifer Kenny, Florida field organizer for the Alliance for Retired Americans emphasized that worrying about the cost is not a priority-putting people to work is. She urged everyone to call Senators Nelson and Lemieux to urge them to pass a robust jobs bill that will put Florida back to work. The number is 1-888-460-0813. Here’s the video of the press conference.
A short while afterward Josh Anijar, Central Florida field representative for the AFL-CIO commented that he had just returned from Titusville and it was looking “more and more like a ghost town.” Saving the Space jobs is so important that Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO nationally, as well as other well known national labor leaders will be in attendance. Anijar also stated that for the first time local businessmen and chambers of commerce who have a huge stake in the outcome want to be involved. “Since this is a union event the tea baggers will also be there. It ought to be real interesting to see whom they protest” said Anijar. Douglas De Clue, a currently unemployed aerospace engineer claimed that “The entire Space Coast will be a third world country if we don’t save those jobs. People will continue to be out of work and will continue to lose their homes. Property values will be down to nothing and you can forget about money for education. This isn’t just a Titusville issue-lots of people who depend on NASA live here in Orange, Osceola, Volusia and Seminole counties. How do you replace an entire industry that has so greatly added to our technological superiority and immeasurably enhanced our quality of life? How do you let it go in the first place?”
I received an email on Friday from Florida Attorney General Candidate, Dave Aronberg via Avery Salkey who was the subject of an earlier Huffington Post article under Arthur Delaney’s byline which I had also contributed to. Avery had been fighting off foreclosure since before February of 2009 from Yale Mortgage, a hard equity lender. She’s received a 24 hour notice to vacate, and there is such bad blood between her and Woody Kahn, the president of Yale, that there is no way the two of them can work things out. Now that ACORN has lost its impact there is no one to fight for her, certainly not Bill McCollum, Florida’s current Attorney General. He’s too busy trying to indict every Democrat in Broward County while sweeping his own Republican Party’s corruption under the rug. I’ve tried to get in touch with Avery but as of this posting she has not returned my calls.