Minnesotans urge lawmakers: ‘Put people back to work’


Liz Freeberg, one of thousands of unemployed Minnesotans, has a message for those gathered Thursday at President Obama’s White House job summit: “Keep focusing on the fact that this is about putting people back to work.” The Circle Pines resident said, “I’ve applied for 40-45 jobs just in the last six months. I had one interview and I didn’t get the job.” Her 18-year-old daughter has been unable to find employment since March, she said.

Phil Ekstrand had a good-paying job in the financial services industry until being laid off one year ago. He still’s pounding the pavement looking for work.

“It’s not just me and 10 other people going for a job like it used to be,” the Minneapolis resident noted. “It’s me and a couple hundred people.”

Freeberg and Ekstrand were among six workers who participated in a roundtable discussion Thursday organized by the Minnesota office of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Similar roundtables were held in Ohio, New Mexico and California.

The Minnesota discussion, timed to coincide with Obama’s job summit, was moderated by state AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson.

Minnesota workers roundtable
At Working America’s Minneapolis office, participants in a workers roundtable discussed jobs and the economy.

Photo by Jessica Hayssen

‘Important discussion’

“This is really an important discussion to have,” Knutson told the participants. She asked them to discuss how the economic crisis has affected them and what recommendations they have for lawmakers.

Rudy Martinez, a member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 34, is among the quarter of his union’s members who are on the bench because of the slow economy. He said he’s better off than most, but “I’m afraid to spend money because of how long I’m going to be laid off.”

That type of fear makes an economic recovery even harder, he noted. “Nobody wants to spend until they see something good happen.”

Robert Christensen, a mechanic at Delta Airlines, said he worries that all the good jobs are disappearing.

“Stop the outsourcing. We need a manufacturing base in this country,” he said. “We can’t just flip burgers for each other.”

Allison Drusch, a self-employed Working America member from White Bear Lake, said she worries about the survival of the planet and what the future holds for her children – and is tired of politicians applying quick fixes that don’t work in the long-term.

Critics of government spending also need to look at the whole picture, she said.

“You’re going to spend it one way or another . . . on infrastructure or welfare benefits,” Drusch said. “All of us would like to see our neighbors have jobs, rather than see it spent on more welfare benefits or more unemployment benefits.”

Liz FreebergRudy MartinezPhil Ekstrand
Liz FreebergRudy MartinezPhil Ekstrand

Green jobs, American ingenuity

Martinez said he would urge lawmakers to invest in green jobs that can’t be outsourced and that protect the planet. Ekstrand pointed out that America has the brain power to achieve energy independence and tackle other challenges, but needs the political will to do so.

Shar Knutson
Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson moderated the discussion.

Photo by Jessica Hayssen

Christensen said that any economic solution must address the widening gap between the rich and everyone else in the United States.

Martinez echoed Freeberg’s point about keeping the focus on people. “We’re not just numbers, we’re human beings with families,” he said.

Panelist Lynne Bolton, an organizer for Working America, said she hears many of the same comments when meeting with workers across Minnesota.

“They’re just waiting for officials to stand up and start working for them instead of working for big corporations,” she said. “People don’t want a handout – they want to work.”

For more information
Learn more at the Working America website