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Hundreds of construction workers protest budget impasse

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Several hundred hardhats gathered at the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds this morning to protest the budget deadlock that has thrown hundreds of labor brothers out of work.

In fact, said Jarad Donabedin, a member of Laborers Local 185, “Everyone here is out of work. This is real life.”

Called by the California Alliance for Jobs, speakers from operating engineers, carpenters and laborers locals spoke in a highly-charged atmosphere to repeated cheers from those gathered.

The most common chant was “What do we want?” “A budget!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” chanted as the protesters circled around the area, holding picket signs reading “LEGISLATORS DO YOUR JOB SO WE DON’T LOSE OURS!”

Carl Goff, the vice president of the Operating Engineers Local 3, noted that “CalTrans has announced they’re shutting down 140 road projects in the state of California,” and one speaker later added that work on the Lincoln Bypass project was stopping.

Goff also noted that construction workers and engineers were suffering a double whammy in this dire economy, saying that his local had an 18 percent unemployment rate, more than double the statewide average. The drop off in jobs from the slowing of new housing construction had made things bad, but the evaporation of infrastructure jobs due to the tied-up budget made the financial hurt much worse.

Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs confirmed that, saying, “Our industry is already on the rocks – the only game in town now is public works projects.”

The biggest construction projects in Sacramento’s central city the new Bank of the West office tower at 5th and N Street, and the new central plant for heating and cooling many of the state buildings downtown. The latter was still under construction as of yesterday, but workers there are unsure how long the project, due to finish in May, will continue. And Donabedin said that many at the Bank of the West project have been let go.

Donabedin also said that CalTrans work on the Sheldon Road bypass in Elk Grove had stopped for lack of funds, and that he and his friends were feeling the pain.

“My wife has a state job, and she’s been furloughed,” he said. “But at least she still has a job, and benefits. I don’t, and I have 30 friends in construction who are sitting home with no work. It’s bad.”

Donabedin also noted that he had looked on craigslist at job listings for construction, and while few were listed for Sacramento, Tennessee had lots of jobs listed, he said, “And you can buy a house there for $130,000. People are going to start leaving Sacramento if this continues.”

“Just last month, we had 800 people out of work,” he added. “People have to support their families. This is bad times.”

A member of Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s office distributed a statement saying in part, "We are on your side and we will not let another week go by without action from the legislature. I am committed to bringing a vote to the floor this week."

Meanwhile, Governor Schwarzenegger’s office announced just before 1 this afternoon that he would have to lay off more than 20,000 state workers this Friday if the legislature failed to reach an agreement on the budget.

 

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