Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis welcomed delegates to the AFL-CIO’s second “Next Up!” summit for young workers in Minneapolis last night, taking the opportunity to promote the jobs bill President Obama introduced to Congress earlier this month.
Holding up a copy of the president’s American Jobs Act, Solis urged a ballroom packed with hundreds of young union activists to “have my back and have my boss’ back” by pressuring their members of Congress to pass the bill.
“Will you help us move the Congress? Will you help us make those calls? Will you tweet, blog or Facebook?” Solis asked. “Because that’s what it’s going to take.”
Solis addressed the summit of young workers during its opening session at the Minneapolis Hilton. Billed as an opportunity for young workers to advance and help shape the labor movement’s agenda, “Next Up!” will run through Oct. 2.
More than 800 people are registered, according to AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who also took the stage to welcome delegates during the opening session.
“This summit has been planned by young workers for young workers,” Shuler said, calling it an opportunity to “give voice to the issues young workers are facing.
“Do you want to wake up Washington and make them pay attention to you? That’s why we’re here.”
Solis told delegates she’s one leader in Washington who already is paying attention.
The recipient of a federal Pell Grant that helped her afford her college education, Solis warned delegates that Pell Grants and other federal initiatives aimed at boosting opportunities for young Americans are “under attack” by Tea Party Republicans.
“I feel like there are a lot of young people who are feeling very distressed right now, that the opportunities aren’t there right now, that those doors (to opportunity) are closing,” Solis said. “I want to stick my foot out there because that door has got to stay open.”
Solis also called out members of Congress trying to roll back prevailing wages, health and safety protections for workers on the job and – a key issue for many people in the ballroom – a provision of Affordable Care Act that allows children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they turn 26.
“There is action right now happening in Congress to remove the benefits this president has already put in place,” Solis said.
But the recurring theme of Solis’ address was the need to pressure Congress into passing the president’s jobs bill. The nation’s unemployment rate is hovering around 9 percent, threatening to drag the economy into a “double-dip” recession.
Young workers, meanwhile, have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn, according to a recent Associated Press analysis of 2010 census data. Employment among young adults ages 16 to 29 dropped by 12 percent from 2000 to 2010, and young workers face the highest unemployment rate since World War II.
The disturbing results of its analysis prompted the AP to call today’s young workers “the recession’s lost generation.”
“Young people are being told that they have to suck it up and live in a world without jobs,” Secretary-Treasurer Shuler said.
The “Next Up!” summit, she added, is about more than just speakers, workshops and networking. It’s about taking action.
To that end, delegates will march through the streets of downtown Minneapolis today, calling on lawmakers to take action to create good jobs. The march begins at 5 p.m. outside the Hilton, 1001 Marquette Ave. South, and goes to the Government Plaza Light Rail Station at 5th St. and 3rd Ave. South.
“We’re here together with two fundamental questions facing each of us,” Shuler said. “Is this the kind of world we want to live in? And if not, what are we going to do about it?”