Several hundred orange-shirtted members of the Labborers International Union of North American rallied in Southwest Baltiimore today to call for increased federal spending on infrastructure projects tp help create jobs for its members and others.
Using the deteriorated Wilkens Avenue bridge over the Gwynns Falls as a backdrop, the union launched a campaign in Maryland to make job creation a top priority of Maryland's congressional delegation.
The targets of LIUNA's message were Maryland's two Democratic U.S. senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin. Union leaders said they generally view the two senators as staunch allies in job creation efforts but wanted to encourage them to step up as "champions" of efforts to provide financing for public works projects including bridges, highways, rail projects, schools and water and sewer facilities.
Jim Anastase, business manager of Construction Laborers Local 710 in Baltimore, said joblessness among his members is running at 24 percent -- the worst in his memory. He said his membbers had benefited little from the economic stimulus because they tend to work on larger projects that received little money under that prohram, which emphasized smaller, "shovel-ready" programs that would create jobs in the short term.
Laborers officials said they are largely pinning their hopes on enactment of a new transportation authorizatiion bill. Currently the nation's transportation program has been operating on a temporary extension of an expired six-year program.
"Running a highway program by extensions is not the way to do business," said Rod Bennett, adviser to the president of LIUNA.
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, who represents Prince George's and Montgomery counties, came to Baltimore for the event. The Democratic congresswoman said the House of Representatives has passed several job creation measures only to see them go nowhere in the Senate.
"They have been laid to waste in the Senate because Senate Repubblicans have blocked the way," she said. "They're playing politics with paychecks and we're going to put a stop to it."
Republican have generally argued that deficit reduction, rather than job creation programs, should be the focus of the U.S. economic strategy.
The Laborers chose the site of the rally largely because of the presence of the bridge, which they identified as one of 372 deficient spans in Maryland. Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city Transportation Department, said Baltimore plans to rehabilitate the bridge but that it is in line behind other projects.
Maryland is the fourth state in which the Laborers have launched a ccampaign for infrastructure spending. The effort is expected to include billboards in the vicinity of bridges such as the one on Wilkens, as well as other advertising.