When “job creators” are not creating jobs, State Senator Chris Larson told an overflow crowd of citizens at the Washington Park Senior Center October 17, “they lose the right to be called ‘job creators’.” A long-time advocate for public transit funding, Larson also recently introduced legislation to tax income over one million dollars an extra 1 percent, to fund expanded technical school training, so people out of work can acquire the skills for jobs that are not being filled.
Senator Spencer Coggs and representatives Jocasta Zamarippa, Sandy Pasch, and Fred Kessler also turned out for the spirited listening session. One speaker told the panel “Thank you for not charging us $15 to come tell you our concerns,” as congressman Paul Ryan and other Republican congressmen did during last August’s recess. The session was opened with a prayer by Rev. Willie Brisco, president of Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH).
A recurrent theme from several citizens is that without adequate bus transportation, many out of work can’t even get to available jobs if they are hired. James Macon, shop floor representative for members of Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 998, pointed out that “there could be all the jobs in the world” and if people can’t get there, they won’t be working. Larson reported that during eight years as Milwaukee County Executive, Scott Walker (currently governor) cut access to 40,000 jobs by slashing the Milwaukee County Transit System.
At least ten different speakers spoke in support of dedicated funding for the Milwaukee County Transit System, supported by a majority of county voters in a November 2008 referendum. Between the Democratic leadership in the legislature and the vacillation of former governor James Doyle, the state never granted the necessary approval for the county to initiate the half cent sales tax for transit, or for the park system.
“The county executive has a dream sheet” for sustaining the bus system Macon observed, but without reliable revenue “114 drivers could be laid off” and many routes slashed. The county board’s finance committee had been informed earlier that morning that county executive Chris Abele had projected a short-term fix to sustain service for two more years.
Mike Lauer from Wisconsin Jobs Now added another link between employment and transit, with a graphic presentation on the “work to be done everywhere” in Milwaukee County, which unemployed residents could be hired for. This included many deteriorating roads, bridges and streets, and the county park system. “We’re asking you to fight” to get these basic local priorities funded, Lauer told the legislators, “and we’ll have your back. Incentives are not creating jobs. Take back that money.”
Zamarippa, a freshman legislator representing the 8th Assembly District, responded to concerns that employers refuse to hire anyone who has been out of work, highlighting a bill she has co-sponsored with Rep. Tamara Grigsby to outlaw this type of discrimination.
Zamarippa also thanked Kalil Coleman, who raised a question about what is being done to kill Assembly Bill 286, introduce by Rep. Joe Kleefish, with a companion measure by Sen. Alberta Darling, to disenfranchise people with felony convictions. Coleman, she said, had flagged the bill and alerted legislators to fight it. Currently, citizens who have sustained criminal convictions are able to vote once their sentence, including probation or parole, is completed. Coggs told the 25-year-old Coleman “I’ve been killing this bill since before you were born. But you have to shout out.”
County supervisor Eyon Biddle, Sr. announced that Milwaukee County had “banned the box” asking whether job applicants had a criminal conviction, adding that many “told me it couldn’t be done,” but hundreds of people called supervisors’ offices to demand it. Biddle also highlighted the Ready to Work Initiative he has introduced with supervisor Theodore Lipscomb, to create 1000 new jobs in Milwaukee County.
Kessler pointed out that drawing lines for legislative districts is skewed by counting prison populations as part of the district where the prison is located, even though none of them can vote. He called for counting prison populations as part of the district where they were convicted and sentenced, or where they last lived.
Pasch reminded the sympathetic but demanding audience “we’re not a majority yet” but emphasized the importance of fighting every step of the way and not “allowing the other side to define the questions. We have to make sure the truth gets on the airwaves, not nonsense. We want to save our state.”
A man who identified himself as a member of the United Steel Workers of America emphasized that it would do little good to elect “just Democrats.” Noting that “I’m blessed,” and he wanted those currently out of work to have what he has, he called for election of “labor backing Democrats.” With “job creation” emphasizing temporary work and contracting agencies who take advantage of employees, “people who want to get into my trade can’t,” and he wants the doors open to them.