Thursday, November 3, 2011

Infrastructure Jobs Roundtable In St. Louis Today

Charlie Edelen, Communications Organizer, Missouri Jobs with Justice sends this report from today's Infrastructure Jobs Roundtable in St. Louis. He's on Twitter @rollerreader

Labor leaders, out-of-work construction workers, academics, contractors and representatives from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) came together today to participate in a roundtable discussion in St. Louis. The panelists discussed the need for a comprehensive federal jobs bill to jump start the economy and get the state out of its current jobs crisis.

Ironically, the Rebuild America Jobs Act, legislation supported by the panelists that would create badly needed jobs in the local community was voted on and blocked by the U.S. Senate. Missouri Senator Roy Blunt was one of those voting against the jobs bill.

The roundtable participants shared information and personal testimony about why the federal legislation is urgently needed. Jeff Aboussie, Secretary Treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council said that the unemployment rate for union construction workers in the metropolitan area is as high as 22-25%.

Kevin O'Keefe, 21 year member of Laborers Local 110 is one of the many trained workers on the bench. Work hasn't been steady since last year, and he doesn't know if he will be able to work the minimum hours required to retain his health insurance benefits, which could cause his family's health costs to skyrocket.

MODOT has identified projects that need improvement, but spokesman Ed Hassinger told of dire consequences without necessary funds. Without infrastructure dollars, workers like O'Keefe will continue to face chronic joblessness and our communities will not see needed improvements to our roads and bridges.

Thom Kuhn, President and CEO of Millstone Bangert talked about the impact to private contractors. Without critical transportation investments, his business is doing half the work they did in 2006. His company built the new Busch Stadium and many other highly visible projects, but needs a commitment from Missouri elected officials to create good jobs.

Gary Elliott, Business Manager, Eastern Missouri Laborers District Council, moderated the discussion and spoke frankly about infrastructure dollars. He referred to the current taboo on the word "taxes," suggesting using the acronym ROI--Return on Investment.

"Spending money on our infrastructure - roads, bridges, highways and mass transit - is an investment. You're putting people to work, generating badly needed revenue for our state and you're making the state more attractive to business by proving our commitment to logistics. In short, this investment makes life smoother for everyone. No one wants a road trip to include a flat tire or a crumbled bridge."

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