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Unemployed LI construction workers rally for help

Construction workers hold a mock funeral in front

Construction workers hold a mock funeral in front of the department of labor in Hicksville with Nassau Executive Ed Mangano. Workers protested the 35% unemployment rate among construction workers. (March 10, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hundreds of unemployed construction workers Wednesday staged a mock funeral procession from Hauppauge to Hicksville to mark the loss of 11,100 local construction jobs in the past year.

The Long Island Contractors Association and Long Island Federation of Labor called for the state to use highway and bridge funds for building projects so their members could get back to work. Despite improvements for some construction categories -- roofers and project managers, for example -- leaders of the groups said that more than one in three construction workers, or 35 percent, was unemployed.

Marc Herbst, executive director of the contractors group, said, "We are dying as an industry." He said government should turn to the industry to repair and improve infrastructure and to help jump-start the economy.

The cost of unemployment goes beyond a lost paycheck, said Bruce Goldman, program director for the Zucker-Hillside Hospital Project Outreach in West Hempstead.

Goldman said that for some people the emotional stress and anxiety that can come with losing a job can lead to other problems. "Some people resort to increased use of alcohol" and drugs, he said. In 2007, he said, people who were unemployed made up 15 percent of the program's clientele. Last year that proportion had doubled to 33 percent.

The groups praised both Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano for their capital spending plans.

Levy addressed the crowd outside the Perry Duryea State Building and Mangano welcomed a caravan of construction vehicles and union members at their destination, outside the state unemployment office in Hicksville.

A flashing message board on a flatbed truck read: "LI const. jobs: funeral procession ahead.' 

What some are saying

Cathy Owen
West Babylon

An operating engineer for nearly 25 years, Owen said she was out of work for several months before recently getting work on a project that lasted only a few weeks. Then again, for the past couple of weeks, "You wait for work, you wait to get called."

Mitchell Coffey
E. Patchogue

Coffey, an engineer for the past 21 years, said this recession was the worst he's experienced. "I've been working a day here, a day there. I have a wife in the hospital with cancer," he said. "I have to pay the insurance every month."

John Koehnlein
Port Jefferson

Koehnlein, who has worked as a carpenter for 36 years, said his most recent job was in October. The first half of 2009, he estimated that he only worked a total of 62 hours. He said he had maxed out on regular and extended unemployment benefits.

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