In SOTU speech, Obama should say no to TPP, yes to job access and infrastructure

Posted by: Gordon on 1/17/2015
With his State of the Union address the day after the Dr. Martin Luther King federal holiday and at a moment when our national awareness of racial inequity is greater than it has been in decades, race ought to be a major theme in President Obama’s speech tomorrow.

Whether on immigration or jobs, crime, education, or health care, we've come to believe an explicit discussion of race will prove as important in solving the problems we face as involving those closest to the problems we face in their solutions.
SOTU Speech - Houses of Congress

“Since the 1960s I haven’t seen the division in this country more defined than now,” says Rev. Willie Brisco, president of Gamaliel’s African American Leadership Commission and Milwaukee affiliate MICAH and vice president of Wisconsin’s WISDOM.

“What we need to understand today is that the challenges we face are not about good and bad people but about systems. For example, with the police the systems used in hiring and evaluating people who you’re going to give a gun to, or when it comes to jobs making sure that everyone has access to the jobs we’re creating.”

If we could write SOTU15, hashtags and all, #immigration and #blacklivesmatter would break social media Tuesday night. That may be too much to hope for, but here’s what we do think he should say tomorrow:

Paid sick leave--enhancing access to jobs
We are excited about his support for at least seven paid sick days for every worker. This is a great example of a way to be intentional about who gets access to jobs in our economy. Yes, it is important to create jobs – but we need to invest thought in effort to insure that people who need jobs are able to access them, too. We highlighted the importance of this in our recent report on the bottom-line impact of community advocacy strategies on the economy, Jobs and More Jobs.

Another way to promote access to jobs we are waiting for President Obama to address is updating regulations that govern how many women and people of color ought to receive positions on federally-funded infrastructure and other projects.

Gamaliel has seen the value of such policies as an employer. In the years since we instituted paid-leave policies for employees to care for aged parents as well as parental leave when a child is born, adopted or becomes ill, we've seen the numbers of women and people of color staffing organizations across our network grow. This has helped reduce turnover of women, in particular, who now make up a majority of our national staff and organizers at our affiliates.

Grow America Act and Infrastructure
Last year Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx floated the administration's $302-billion Grow America Act, which included many Gamaliel and Transportation Equity Network priorities to strengthen transportation and infrastructure policies such as better local hire provisions on construction projects, increased transit spending, and making permanent the TIGER grants to local governments program.

We hope he will revisit the proposal tomorrow night and vow to re-introduce all or at least significant parts of the Act. He could also help to push forward a dedicated secure source of funding for transportation so that transit dollars and programs can become more than a stepchild of highway spending.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPP)
President Obama has got it wrong on this proposed agreement. President Obama has touted the benefits of "re-shoring" American jobs; the TPP cuts against that trend. Instead, this agreement would roll back employee protections and wages, food safety and health regulations; place greater burdens on an already-broken immigration system; and disparately impact women and people of color.

Unfortunately, the details of the agreement are being negotiated behind closed doors with corporate officials. If previous free trade agreements with Mexico and China are an indicator of what to expect [as a spreadsheet from Economic Policy Institute shows], we will see millions of U.S. jobs off-shored and tens of thousands of factories and manufacturing sites closed, significantly harming families and communities that are still struggling to recover from the 2008 economic crisis.

Today affiliates across the Gamaliel network are honoring King Day with events, trainings and other actions from California to Illinois, and New York state. Tomorrow we will watch our president deliver his second-to-last SOTU speech with hope that he will help to move us a step closer to the Beloved Community that Dr. King talked about.
Tags: statements | Obama | SOTU | jobs | crime | race |
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