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Laid off and left with nothing

November 16, 2001 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON explains how Corporate America's job massacres–and government restrictions on unemployment benefits–are wrecking lives.

"NEVER DO it on a Friday," says Mary Pisarkiewicz. "It's really terrible for the employee. Monday's too shocking…Don't do it first thing in the morning–it's so evident and obvious and not good for the other employees."

Pisarkiewicz owns a consulting firm and advises employers looking for the best way to fire workers. Right now, she's got plenty of clients. U.S. companies eliminated 415,000 jobs in the month of October–the biggest one-month job loss in 21 years.

Some of the biggest names in Corporate America are shedding workers as fast as they can. "The unemployment rate is probably headed for at least 6.5 percent," Bruce Steinberg, chief economist at Merrill Lynch, told reporters.

The Bush administration's solution? An "economic stimulus" package that lines the bosses' pockets–while doing next to nothing for workers.

"The big winners…would be 14 profitable companies such as IBM and General Electric, who together would walk off with immediate windfalls of $6.3 billion from the repeal and refunding of the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax," said Chuck Collins of United for a Fair Economy. "At the bottom of the heap would be laid-off workers, who might or might not be helped by the 3 percent of the cost of the bill going to state unemployment insurance systems."

The administration is proposing that unemployment benefits be extended from 26 to 39 weeks in states where unemployment has risen by 30 percent or more since September 11. But this will mean nothing to hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers–because they don't qualify for unemployment in the first place.

Nationwide, only 39 percent of workers in the U.S. are eligible for jobless benefits at all. And the regulations vary by state, so the numbers are even lower in various places. In Florida, for example, regulations are so tight that only 26 percent of the state's unemployed workers qualified for benefits last year.

For part-time workers, the picture is even bleaker. According to the Washington Post, in the past two months alone, the number of people forced to work part-time because their workweeks were cut back or because they couldn't find full-time jobs rose by more than 1 million workers.

That means a daily struggle just to provide the basics for their families. Ask Paulette Lind. Paulette had been working two jobs–full-time in a hospital during the day, and an additional 21 hours each week at a pizza company, where she earned $9 an hour.

But last month, when Northwest Airlines canceled its contract, Lind was laid off from the pizza company. Yet because the job she lost was part-time, Lind, like virtually all other part-time workers, isn't eligible for benefits.

Low-wage workers are facing the brunt of the job cuts. A report by the Fiscal Policy Institute predicts that almost 80,000 people in New York City will have lost their jobs by the end of the year–and 60 percent of these positions paid an average of $23,000 a year, far below the citywide average of about $58,000.

Kim Daily is typical of the victims. The single mother of two told the New York Times that she had worked her way up from a $6-an-hour job picking up room-service trays to a $15-an-hour job stocking minibars at the World Trade Center Marriott hotel.

Since the September 11 attacks, however, she hasn't found another job. Kim stood in line for four hours outside a city-sponsored job fair–but there were so many people and so few jobs that she never even made it in the door. At her union's job bank, there were only a few hotel positions, and none paid anywhere near the $25,000 that she earned at the Marriott last year.

Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, which represents about 6,000 restaurant workers, says that 10 percent of its members lost jobs after September 11. On October 29, four tractor-trailer trucks from the group Feed the Children pulled up outside the union's health center in Elmhurst, Queens. Nearly 500 unemployed or under-employed union members and their families lined up for canned goods, baby food, toothpaste and other items.

"No one wants to hear our stories," said Asmat Ali, a former captain at Windows on the World, a restaurant in the World Trade Center. "About a busboy or the dishwasher making $250 a week and raising three kids in an apartment in the Bronx or Brooklyn. But 80 percent of the people who worked in the World Trade Center fell in that category."

Lining the pockets of the richest companies

CHRIS HARTMAN of United for a Fair Economy says that the Bush administration's economic stimulus package should be called the "Assistance for American Corporations Act."

"It spends more on business tax breaks than on any single real stimulus measure," Hartman said. "All its relief measures for workers and individual taxpayers are too small to be effective."

In fact, the House version of the package gives $6.3 billion away to just 14 Fortune 500 corporations–while Congress has earmarked just $3 billion for measures against bioterrorism.

Even Republican Neanderthals are having a hard time with the cover story that they want to help American workers. For example, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) bragged that the stimulus bill "will create 170,000 jobs next year alone." That was days after the government announced that 415,000 Americans had lost jobs in October–bringing total unemployment to 7.7 million.

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