About 1,060 Rockland County residents lost extended unemployment
benefits after Congress failed to act last month. Two individuals directly
affected spoke about the impact on them and their difficulty finding
construction work despite a reportedly improving economy. Mark Heppner and Omar
Dawson talked about their situations with Congresswoman Nita Lowey
(D-Westchester/Rockland) and local labor leaders on Monday.
Heppner, a former longtime West Nyack resident, said he has been out of work for five weeks. The concern of the now Monroe, Orange County resident is that in the past he has been unable to find a job for 17 months.
“I haven’t worked a full year for over 10 years,” said Heppner, a trades worker. “I’ve traveled to Albany two and a half hours to work. My wife’s home with a stroke.”
The 58-year-old said if he cannot find work and unemployment benefits are not extended, his financial situation could worsen rapidly.
Omar Dawson of Suffern is training to be an electrical apprentice. The 33 year old just started with the union in 2013 and hoping his new career will put him on the path to economic stability although he is currently unemployed. Dawson said he has held minimum wage jobs and had to rely on food pantries and other charitable organizations to get by.
The leaders of Local 363 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Hudson Valley Labor Council, Rockland County Labor Council, and Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation told Lowey at the roundtable session that up to 40 percent of their trade union members cannot find steady work. Emergency federal unemployment benefits expired on December 29th affecting more than 5,000 job seekers in Rockland and Westchester counties.
IBEW Business Manager Sam Fratto said people want to work and he estimated between 1,000 and 1,500 local tradesmen are looking for work.
“The bottom line is American people need help,” he said.
Bob Milone of the Rockland County Labor Council said a jobs stimulus is needed because companies are unwilling to invest in expansion. Lowey agreed with him and noted that funding repairs of the nation’s infrastructure would provide jobs and benefit entire communities because wage-earning residents would have more money to spend.
Lowey said her Republican counterparts should vote to extend unemployment benefits.
“In my judgment, there is no rational reason not to extend unemployment benefits,” she said, adding that people do not want a hand out they want a hand up so they can help themselves.