The North Texas Workers Rights Board met on November 20 at Southern Methodist University to confer with Erica Smiley, Southern Organizer for the parent organization, National Jobs with Justice.
Dr Joerg Rieger presided over the meeting and introduced the organizer. Smiley said that the group clearly had good potential. She talked in general about the need for community leaders to take up the cause of worker justice and the the group's relationship to Jobs with Justice.
After reviewing some of the work we have done on behalf of poorly-treated construction workers in our area, a general proposal that we take up the challenge of advocacy for the unemployed took up most of the two-hour meeting. That day's newspaper said that America has 9.1 million unemployed with an official rate of 10.2%. The actual figures are much larger because they do not count those who have simply given up looking for a job and those who desperately have taken temporary or part-time work that won't feed their families. The more realistic figure is over 17%, according to the Dallas newspaper.
A couple of the participants had firsthand experience with recent joblessness. They agreed that one of the most pressing needs that unemployed people have is simply to get oriented. "They just don't know what to do," said construction worker Adrian Flores. In general, the group agreed that they do not have the resources to supply services to the unemployed. At the same time, it would seem that there is no organization in our area that organizes and advocates for them, despite their pressing need. For example, the Dallas newspaper says that 1,000,000 unemployed Americans will lose their benefits during Christmas unless Congress takes action. But who is pressing Congress for that?
North Texas Jobs with Justice was in the process of scheduling a public action for 1 PM on Friday, November 27, the day after Thanksgiving. They will present a free "turkey dog" lunch at the pavilion on the south side of Lake Cliff Park, corner Colorado & Zang. It's just across the bridge from downtown Dallas. The event will be primarily a health care rally, because health care reform would go a long way toward alleviating both the short term and long term needs of the unemployed.
In the long term, health care reform will lessen the rush to outsource work to other countries where labor costs are lower because they have national health care. Also, health care reform would lower the age at which people can get Medicare, thus encouraging more older workers to retire and leave good jobs for desperate younger families!
Almost everyone in the group expressed a need for basic information. Dr. David Brockman of Ft Worth had a list of services offered by the Workforce Board of Tarrant County. He also said that the National Employment Law Project, www.nelp.org, is a good source of information.
Erica Smiley was one of the last to speak. She said, "This is an overwhelming topic!" She suggested that we form a small sub-committee and start our investigations and probes. After 6-8 weeks, we will evaluate our role and contribution again. Almost immediately, nine people volunteered.