Unemployment: People Not Numbers

GM (soon to be renamed Government Motors, apparently and unfortunately) said yesterday it is getting ready to eliminate another 1,600 salaried jobs. Chrysler is cutting blue-collar jobs at its plant in Twinsburg (near Cleveland) and elsewhere, clearing the decks for its shotgun wedding with Fiat or for going belly up. And GM says it will slice 47,000 jobs worldwide by year’s end. Ouch.

Just numbers, right? Well, no not really. We’re talking about people here — men and women, young and old. And in many (most?) cases we’re talking about working families — not just fretting about putting food on the table, but worrying about keeping their houses, paying for education and so on.

And the numbers in Ohio and elsewhere aren’t good: unemployment nearing or exceeding 10 percent now in many states and the economy still shedding jobs.  The Plain Dealer Sunday reported that “since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, Ohio has lost 261,500 jobs, more than two-thirds since last fall’s financial crisis was revealed. Nationally, an average of more than 150,000 Americans a week have been kicked to the curb since the start of November.”

The Plain Dealer didn’t just stop with the numbers. Reporters and editors took the story further and focused on people — profiling 88 who have lost their jobs in Cleveland and surrounding areas. The PD did this in a special report Sunday, “Help Wanted.” It’s an example of excellent community journalism — what the army of pajama-clad bloggers (uh, me?) and other defenders of democracy can’t duplicate. Not enough resources, time or economic/emotional reward.

But more importantly, the story brings the numbers to life. It attaches faces and stories to the unemployed. That’s important.

And I think it is important to keep getting that message to the policy wonks and elected officials in Washington and elsewhere. So I’m encouraged that the UAW — finally — has stepped up to the digital plate and is asking people to contact President Obama and members of his administration and auto task force. The message: the decisions they are making affect people and their families. It’s not about numbers.

It’s on the UAW Web site: “Save Auto Jobs. Save Main Street.”

Tell the President: Stand up for Workers!

Once again, it’s time for all of us to stand up for active and retired U.S. auto workers. Please contact President Obama today at 1 (202) 456-1414, or send him an e-mail.

The Obama administration has established tight deadlines for the restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors. For the federal government to provide additional assistance to the automakers, the restructuring of Chrysler must be completed by the end of April, and the General Motors restructuring must be completed by the end of May.

The UAW is actively involved in the complex restructuring negotiations, which involve the Obama auto task force, Chrysler and GM management, Fiat, bondholders and secured lenders, dealers, parts suppliers, and other stakeholders. These negotiations will have a major impact on wages and benefits for active and retired UAW members.

UAW members, friends, families and supporters can speak up by calling the White House at 1 (202) 456-1414, or sending an e-mail.

We need President Obama and his auto task force to stand up for the interests of workers and retirees in these restructuring negotiations. Please call or e-mail President Obama right away on this critically important issue. Tell him to insist that workers and retirees must be treated in a fair and equitable manner in any restructuring plans!

Again, you can call the President at 1 (202) 456-1414. Or you can send an e-mail to the White House Web site.

I know. I know. This is controversial. Many argue that the UAW — unions in general — are the cause of the problem. And now the bill has come due and employees and retirees are going to have to shuffle off to the economic woodshed and get what’s coming to them. Good luck with that as national policy. Particularly at a time when the Captains of Industry and the Wizards of Wall Street are still walking away from the economic meltdown with mega-million-dollar pension, severance and bonus packages. WOOT.

But regardless, last week we were all a-Twitter about tax-day tea parties. Good. I’m all for protesting as long as the demonstrations are peaceful and there is some civility connected with the proceedings. (Guess that rules out CNN and Fox News talking heads. I digress.)

So if nothing else, try to attach a face and a story to the unemployed. Hey, The Plain Dealer did it.

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