Almost on the eve of Labor Day and the day after the launch of Measure M—the plan to build the 2nd-largest transit system in the U.S.—it’s important to remember what Measure R did for us. Approved by 2/3 of voters in November 2008, it gave us a leg up out of the Great Recession, playing an important role in bringing us back from the brink by providing billions of dollars for near-term investment in transportation and a total investment of $36 billion over three decades.
Unemployment hit a high of 10.8% in California in 2009, and 12.8% in LA County. But we are back! Unemployment is down to 5.9% in California and 5.2% in LA County—a rate low enough that some consider it “full employment”—and job production here now appears to be more robust than in the state and nation as a whole. We have a lot to celebrate as we head toward the Nov. 8 election. Read what Ron Miller, executive secretary of the LA/OC Building Trades Council, has to say about the significance of the public investment in jobs and apprenticeship programs.
Ron Miller on the significance of the public investment in jobs and apprenticeship programs: When the economy took a nose dive in 2008 thousands of our members were out of work, unable to make house payments, living in their cars, living in homeless shelters. The public investment in jobs—like the investment we made with Measure R—can help smooth out bumps like that in the economy, so that people like our members don’t have to lose everything.
The economy is back now, and construction workers are making a good wage. Union memberships are back up and our apprenticeship programs, some of which were shut down after 2008, are up too. If someone enters an apprenticeship training program, which lasts 4-5 years, they don’t end up with student debt because the training is 100% free. It's paid for by us--by working men and women and our partner contractors. And when you are done you become a journeyman and can make a full-time wage of about $32-$40/hour or $75,000 a year—plus benefits and a pension.
But this building boom won't last forever. That's why Measure R was so important and why Measure M could be even more so: Together they would provide for 40 or 50 years of work not just on construction of our transit system but also on the operation and maintenance of that system. These public investments help stabilize the economy through recessions. And these jobs are particularly important because Southern California is not a manufacturing center anymore—there are no car manufacturers or steel plants, and vocational education has taken a hit.
In this country many people have come to believe that getting a college degree is the best path to financial security, but as the economy improves and the workforce ages there’s increasing demand for apprentice electricians and plumbers, for example, and there simply aren’t enough people with the skills needed for these jobs. Now even government agencies are beginning to push apprenticeships as an alternative to college — because they will lead to truly middle-class jobs.
There’s still an underground economy of underpaid workers out there, and they are the people who spend the largest share of their wages on the necessities of life and who depend on taxpayer-funded government services. We’ve got a duty to break this cycle and help bring these folks out of the shadows and into the light. The point is to both improve lives and to grow the economy--and growing the economy means everyone has to be able to participate.
The outlook from organized labor is that the market is definitely picking up but that public works jobs are the long-term investment that will benefit society and carry us through the hard times. Measure M is the most important measure on the November ballot for us.
Move LA says: Thank you Ron Miller! We agree! Remember to VOTE YES on Measure M.
Paid for by Campaign to Move LA, in Support of Transportation Ballot Measure M, Major Funding by Aaron Sosnick, HDR Engineering, Inc. & Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc.