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Positive impact in African American community is key to Democratic infrastructure jobs plan

May 25, 2017

Dem jobs plan in Congress offers racial equity in hiring, elevating minority-owned small businesses, new jobs building clean drinking water systems in areas like Flint – in contrast, Trump will sell off roads and help billionaires

by Kelsea Wilkerson

Washington, D.C. – Today, May 25, congressional Democrats and a coalition of progressive organizations representing millions of Americans kicked off the long-anticipated infrastructure fight, launching a massive campaign to create millions of new jobs – and invest billions in much-needed projects in African-American communities across the country.

Congressman Keith Ellison announces progressive Democrats’ resolve to put people, especially those in hoods where unemployment is sky-high, back to work, promising preference for residents. Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was narrowly defeated in his Bernie Sanders-backed run for Democratic Party chair; he serves as deputy chair.

Pointing to preventable disasters like the Flint water crisis, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Millions of Jobs Coalition announced a congressional resolution that lays out 10 principles that must be true of any jobs plan – especially prioritizing public investment for African Americans who have for too long been left behind by our economy and public policies.

“Black communities have seen firsthand the devastation that can occur when our country’s infrastructure is privatized and run by corporations,” said Rashad Robinson, ColorOfChange executive director. “Whether it’s the poisoning of public waters like we saw in Flint or the creation of new highway tolls that force working class folks onto overcrowded roads, our very health and livelihood is threatened by the hollowing out of America’s infrastructure.

“It’s time for a new vision, and that’s why we stand with the principles released by the Congressional Progressive Caucus today that, if enacted, would repair the physical fabric of our country and create millions of jobs for our communities.”

“Rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure is about so much more than construction projects. It’s about replacing the pipes in Flint that poisoned an entire community, making our roads and bridges safer, and rebuilding crumbling schools,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair and Democratic National Committee deputy chair.

The grassroots Millions of Jobs Coalition has teamed up progressive leaders in Congress to unveil a plan that fulfills those principles. The plan, authored by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California, calls for $2 trillion in public investment over 10 years, requires racial equity in hiring and job training and prioritizes contracts for minority-owned firms – creating millions of good-paying jobs for people of color.

The plan would invest $35 billion in the first year to rebuild toxic, crumbling water systems in Flint and African-American communities across the country – ensuring the health and safety of millions of Black children.

“Rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure is about so much more than construction projects. It’s about replacing the pipes in Flint that poisoned an entire community, making our roads and bridges safer, and rebuilding crumbling schools,” said Rep. Keith Ellison.

Under the progressive plan, when the government rebuilds water systems in places like Flint that have been neglected due to systemic racism, hiring priority will be given to local people in those communities.

“We need to invest in our infrastructure so that communities – especially communities of color – are empowered for a 21st century economy,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California: “The CPC infrastructure plan lays out bold, long overdue investments into the American people. Our plan puts people to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, expanding the green economy and bringing broadband to communities across the country.”

“Americans, regardless of partisan leanings, are united in their desire to get back to work,” said Kristerfer Burnett, Baltimore city councilmember. “The needs of post-industrial cities like my own Baltimore, Maryland, are the needs of so many others: crumbling roads and bridges, a lack of 21st century transportation options, and our children attempting to learn in some of the most dilapidated buildings – often lacking air conditioning, heat and drinkable water fountains. I applaud the leaders in Congress who are seeking to put Americans back to work, paying family sustaining wages for the public good.”

“We need to invest in our infrastructure so that communities – especially communities of color – are empowered for a 21st century economy,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California.

African-American workers make up nearly 30 percent of bus and urban transit services and will see a huge benefit from $350 billion in funding to expand high speed rail, subways and bus systems. The Millions of Jobs Coalition is also calling for Project Labor Agreements that raise wages, make workplaces safer for workers and support strong local hiring with racial equity.

Unlike President Trump’s plan that relies on private-public partnerships that have historically underserved communities of color, the progressive plan empowers communities to take a leading role in determining their own infrastructure gaps and solutions. The plan would make 21st century investments in efficient water systems, schools, public transit and high-speed Internet for low-income working families – paid for by asking Wall Street, giant corporations and the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.

The Millions of Jobs Coalition announced grassroots events across the nation next week touting the progressive plan. The coalition includes ColorofChange, Center for Popular Democracy, PICO, Working Families Party, the Communications Workers of America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Demos Action, MoveOn.org, NextGen Climate, 350 Action, Roosevelt Institute, Free Press, Democracy for America, Food & Water Watch and others.

“Progressive Democrats in Congress are showing America what a 21st Century economy can look like – millions of living-wage jobs and economic growth for struggling communities, women and people of color,” said Heather McGhee, Demos Action president. “Donald Trump believes America is for sale, but Americans won’t buy his vision of selling off our roads, bridges and other public resources to Wall Street and foreign companies. The Millions of Jobs Coalition will show the public a more positive vision of direct public investment in jobs and our communities.”

The Trump administration has made clear they support little direct public investment in jobs and will rely heavily on privatization and corporate giveaways:

  • Trump’s proposal would result in a net negative in direct infrastructure investment. The Washington Post reports, “Despite his much-touted plans to spur significant increases in infrastructure investment, President Trump’s budget would actually cut more federal spending on such programs than it would add, according to an analysis by Senate Democrats.”
  • Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao confirmed that Trump’s supposedly-trillion dollar proposal will include only $200 billion in direct federal funding – and that’s after “$206 billion in cuts to an array of infrastructure programs.”
  • Last Monday, Politico reported a Fox News interview in which Chao said Trump’s plan will center on “some kind of public-private partnerships” and “maybe some sale of government assets as well.” According to Bloomberg News, the Trump plan will likely include selling $40 billion of American infrastructure to Saudi Arabia.
  • Trump has also pledged to roll back environmental protections and other regulations as part of his plan. A coalition of conservative advocacy groups supports weakening those rules and also urges a repeal of labor protections.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus resolution, announced Thursday, clearly differentiates Democrats from Trump. It lays out 10 principles that must be true of any jobs plan:

  • It must invest in creating millions of new jobs,
  • It must prioritize public investment over corporate giveaways and selling off public goods,
  • It must ensure that direct public investment provides the majority of the funds for infrastructure improvement,
  • It must prioritize racial and gender equity, environmental justice and worker protections.
  • It must invest in 21st century jobs,
  • It must protect wages, expand Buy American provisions, and prioritize the needs of disadvantaged communities – both urban and rural,
  • The wealthiest Americans and giant corporations who reap the greatest economic benefit from public goods should pay their fair share for key investments,
  • It must not be paid for at the expense of Social Security and other vital programs,
  • It must not weaken or repeal existing rules and laws protecting our environment, worker safety, wages or equity hiring practices, and
  • It must prioritize a resilient infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters and cyber or physical attacks.

“Our plan creates millions of forward-thinking jobs and ensures nobody is forced to compromise their living standards or working conditions,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair. “It sets fundamental principles of social, racial and environmental justice so our infrastructure planning workforce reflects the needs of our diverse communities.”

“Our plan creates millions of forward-thinking jobs and ensures nobody is forced to compromise their living standards or working conditions,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva.

Unions representing millions of American workers also endorsed the progressive framework and Lieu’s specific proposal to create jobs through direct public infrastructure investment, including North America’s Building Trades Unions, Transportation Trades Department of AFL–CIO, Teamsters, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinkler Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, American Federation of Teachers, National Educators Association, Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, and Amalgamated Transit Union.

Said Dan Cantor, Working Families Party national director: “From his steaks to his university, Trump believes he can stamp his name on junk and call it gold. His so-called infrastructure plan will be nothing more than a massive giveaway to Wall Street, and he’ll stick our children with the bill for generations to come. Progressives have a plan to create millions of jobs, build a 21st century economy and pay for it by taxing the big banks that still never paid the bill for crashing the economy almost a decade ago.”

Kelsea Wilkerson can be reached at kelsea@megaphonestrategies.com.

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