U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis zipped through the Twin Cities Thursday in an effort to rustle up support for President Obama's American Jobs Act. Her message was simple: To rebuild the jobs market, the United States has to start building.
Holding up a thick copy of the American Jobs Act, the former California Congresswoman stood near the 10th Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis and told 60 people that the bill would bring jobs to Minnesota, if only it was passed,
How many jobs? At least 7,900 to be exact, she said unabashedly.
"There are more than 10,000 bridges in Minnesota, including this one, that are in need of serious repairs," said Solis, who earlier noticed the bare rebar that was exposed on the underside of the bridge. "I understand the bridge right next to this is the bridge that collapsed. And they [rebuilt] that in a matter of less than a year."
In 2007, there were 116,000 Minnesotans working in construction. Today there are just 86,300, according to the Labor Department. If passed, the Jobs Bill could help put contractors back to work on a series of similar projects that "could be implemented right away, Solis said.
The bill certainly has its critics. Some claim that the Jobs Act funding is too small to offer meanignful longterm relief to the millions of unemployed. Others insist it is one more unproven stimulus program that is certain to drive the deficit higher.
Undaunted,Obama's bill proposes $608 million in funding just for Minnesota road and bridge construction projects that could span three to 10 years. Other components of the bill would: restore teachers' jobs; subsidize re-training programs for workers who are laid off; and create payroll tax cuts to encourage employers to hire.
If adopted, Obama's $447 billion proposal would create 1 million to 1.2 million jobs nationwide and help slot the unemployed, the administration projects. The proposal calls for $5 billion to assist dislocated workers. Some of that money would be in the form of wage subsidies paid to employers. "We are talking about putting a lot of people back to work. not just those in construction but all the suppliers ...[and] restaurant owners, Solis said.
In her role as Obama's jobs emissary, Solis spent the afternoon in the Twin Cities meeting with road and bridge construction workers, the unemployed, recent college grads, the AFL-CIO and the Star Tribune editorial board.
She told the editorial board that labor groups expressed support for the Jobs Act. "It's been music to their ears," she said. The support of labor groups is important as labor leaders have been particularly critical of Obama in the last year.
But Solis praised labor unions across the country saying that the UAW and other unions made concessions that helped bring back industries and jobs. Still much work is to be done, she said, noting that a staunch jobs advocate is missing from Capitol Hill.
Solis bemoaned the absence of former Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar on Capitol Hill while trying to win support for the Jobs Act. He was "our lead representative on transportation. He was the one who was fighting for projects all over the country," she said.
Solis praised Oberstar' for having "very good relationships with people across both the isle. We kind of lost that. She noted she was "confounded" by some of the rudeness and severe partisanship she faces when she has to testify on Capitol Hill about public private partnerships for green jobs and renewable energy projects. Some accuse her of wasting tax payers money.
So the fight goes on. "Right now we are kind of stuck. And it's hurtful for economic reasons, not just the immediacy of jobs on the ground, but what it means for our import and export capacity and our global competitiveness," she told the Star Tribune board.
Solis left the Star Tribune for the Hilton Hotel, where the AFL-CIO invited her to speak at its Next-Up Young Worker Summit. The former Californian heads to Wisconsin Friday where she will visit labor unions and several green energy projects.