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Not a case of potato-potahto when it comes to Colorado’s laborers

AFL-CIO asks Statehouse to save jobs and benefits

By Leigh E. Rich

“We are protecting potatoes from being farmed out, but we’re not protecting jobs,” Sen. Deanna Hanna, D-Lakewood, said, at an AFL-CIO rally held just moments after Colorado’s Statehouse swearing-in ceremonies concluded.

“I support the potato,” she emphasized, nodding to Colorado’s agricultural sector, “but I also support people’s jobs.”

Hanna will put her legislation where her mouth is this session when she sponsors the Keep Jobs in America Act in the state Senate. The job bill is just one of several pieces of legislation the Colorado AFL-CIO publicly supported Wednesday at its rally, which had to be moved from Civic Center Park to the Colorado Education Association due to the snow.

Other bills the organization will support this session, Colorado AFL-CIO President Steve Adams said, involve health care. Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, was slated to talk Wednesday about the Health Care Disclosure Act, but the freshman legislator didn’t make the rally because proceedings in the House hadn’t yet broken for recess.

Such bills will help protect Colorado jobs and workers, Adams said, pointing a finger at the Bush administration for the 2.7 million jobs that have been lost since the 43rd president took office.

Adams also called on Colorado’s Legislature to “determine what it costs us to have Wal-Marts in this state.”

When we bring Wal-Marts to this state, he said, “We lose local businesses. … They drive wages down. Medicaid benefits start evaporating.”

And Wal-Mart employees can’t live, he added, because they often are only offered 32 hours a week at $7.50 to $8.50 an hour.

That’s only $14,144 annually and below the national poverty line, Adams pointed out. “They bring poverty-level jobs. They put a downward pressure on everything.”

Paul Mendrick, secretary-treasurer of the Colorado AFL-CIO, agreed with Adams’ estimation that “we’ve got to halt the Wal-Martizing of America.”

“More jobs in the state of Colorado are being lost,” Mendrick said. “More jobs are being Wal-Martized.”

But the problem goes beyond large corporate, low-paying jobs, other speakers at the rally emphasized. Leslie Moody, president of the Denver Area Labor Federation, called it “a crime in America” that employees are being asked to give up pensions and other benefits.

Dave Atkinson, a longtime United Airline employee and spokesman for the Machinists Local 1886, said workers in the airline industry have taken pay cut on top of pay cut. He also accused the bankruptcy judges in the United Airlines case of “raping and pillaging our way of life. … I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Association of Flight Attendants spokeswoman Patrice Anderson agreed.

“Yesterday’s sacrifices mean nothing,” she said of United Airlines attendants who have taken cuts in pay and other benefits since the company filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2002. She also spoke about additional job insecurity due to “cabotage,” as foreign carriers begin to make greater inroads in America’s domestic air routes.

“Airline management is overreaching,” she said about United potentially dumping labor contracts and wondered if other airlines will follow suit.

Moreover, health care is as important as protecting jobs, Moody said, because medical needs won’t just disappear into the abyss. “We’re going to pick it up on the public dime.”

The state doesn’t have the budget to withstand increased health care pressures, Moody said, and she reminded state legislators, mainly the Democrats, “who helped walk precincts” and “who helped put them in office.”

Working Coloradans were “instrumental in the Colorado Comeback 2004,” said Cory Heggem of SEIU Local 105 and the Mental Health Center of Denver.

He called upon the 65th General Assembly to fix the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and “focus less” on gun rights, mandating the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, and gay marriage.

Rich, L. E. (2005, January 14). AFL-CIO asks Statehouse to save jobs and benefits. The Colorado Statesman, p. 5.

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