Earlier today, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox, Sr. reminded a House Security committee of a simple fact: while Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are too often blamed for screening procedures set by TSA management, these federal workers play a crucial role in ensuring that U.S. skies are as secure as possible.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that in the wake of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress sought more unified and effective security and so federalized screening procedures. Private contractors – with a low-wage, no-benefit workforce and startling turnover rates – simply weren’t going to cut it: a TSO who is fairly compensated for his or her work, who is able to take a sick day when she or he has the flu, and who has incentives to stay in his or her job for long enough to gain expertise, is infinitely preferable to one who isn’t.
It’s a mystery, then, why some in Congress continue to push the Screening Partnership Program (SPP) – which allows for the privatization of aviation security – as a viable alternative to the proven and effective federal screening force. Private screeners employed as part of the SPP must follow the same operating procedures as federally employed TSOs; they use the same equipment; they make airports no more secure and save no taxpayer money. But they are paid less than their federally-employed counterparts and receive inferior benefits, despite doing the same work to keep our skies safe.
So the SPP doesn’t benefit the privatized TSOs. And it certainly doesn’t benefit America’s air passengers, as privatization replaces federally-employed TSOs, many of whom have years of training and experience, with newer, undertrained private employees. Moreover, last year the Government Accountability Office found that TSA had failed to ensure proper oversight of private companies that provide screening services, calling into question the efficacy of these companies when it comes to keeping our skies safe. So why the push to move back to privatized security?
The only ones who seem to benefit from the Screening Partnership Program are the private security companies, who are driven by profit, not security. And taxpayers, along with federally-employed TSOs, are left to bear the costs.
TTD unions understand the important role the federal government must play in ensuring the security and safety of our diverse transportation network. That’s why our Executive Committee adopted a policy statement supporting federal TSOs “who have served our nation and its aviation well in an extremely difficult time and working environment.” And TTD has endorsed legislation (H.R.1455), introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson, that would mandate better oversight and consistent standards for any private company seeking to take over federal screening responsibilities.
We need to stop thinking that the wholesale contracting out of TSOs is some secret elixir for the frustrations of air travel today. Private companies might peddle that myth, but they have a profit motive that is driving their agenda. Congress and federal policy makers must do better and speak for maintaining the highest level of security standards that federal TSOs provide today. Passengers and aviation employees deserve no less and that’s what we will be fighting for.
America’s transportation infrastructure is in crisis. Across the country, transit systems are cutting service and jobs, highways are crumbling, and bridges are falling down. And behind this crisis is years of neglect: Congress has ignored the needs of our transportation system – once the envy of the world – out of political expediency and lack of courage. The result: a transportation investment gap that threatens our country’s long-term growth, undermines our economic competitiveness, and abandons millions of workers.
Unfortunately, this Congress – the least productive in history – is about to let this continue.
And though Congress (thanks mostly to obstructionists) doesn’t seem willing or able to do much of anything lately, they seem to have gotten the message that letting the Highway Trust Fund go bankrupt would be a problem. Last week the House passed HR 5021, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014, which transfers $11 billion to the Highway Trust Fund, enough to keep the Fund solvent and extend surface transportation programs through May 2015. The Senate is poised to vote on an amended version at some point next week.
But HR 5021 is a short-term patch, little more than a band aid. Yes, it’s undeniably preferable to keep the Trust Fund from going broke completely. But extending programs for less than a year doesn’t allow states (or their transit agencies and private construction contractors) to plan for the future and to put into place the major infrastructure projects our nation needs. With no certainty about how much federal funding will be allocated to their projects after next May – or if any will at all – it’s impossible to plan and implement projects to build and maintain roads, bridges, transit systems, and other infrastructure, which typically require years of revenue projection. That leaves states with little choice to do anything more but patch potholes, replace a few aging buses, and hope for the best, hardly a solution that leads to the kind of infrastructure we need to support our economy.
Still, if HR 5021 passes the Senate with several of its proposed amendments, it could lead us to a more effective long-term solution.
One promising amendment to the bill, proposed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) with bipartisan support, is a strong start in that it ensures that the Trust Fund is sustained in part by raising new revenue – which will be essential for any meaningful future funding strategy. But it doesn’t fix the ultimate problem: we need to force debate on a longer-term bill that will allow us to build infrastructure that works for America.
The amendment put forth by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Bob Corker (R-TN) can get us there. The Carper-Corker-Boxer amendment reduces the cost of the legislation and sets an expiration date – December 19th of this year – for surface transportation programs. Crucially, the Carper-Corker-Boxer amendment would both keep the Trust Fund solvent and ensure that Congress will undertake real debate on reauthorizing a long-term, bipartisan surface transportation bill this session. America needs this amendment.
We simply don’t have the time that Congress is wasting putting short-term patches on the Trust Fund. In order to remain an economic power, the United States needs infrastructure that works and construction and transportation projects that will employ millions. This is no time to procrastinate; it’s no time to run away scared from telling Americans the truth about the solution to this problem: we need revenue, not more excuses.
The Carper-Corker-Boxer amendment calls the question. Let’s hope lawmakers answer it correctly.
This week marks the one year anniversary of a tragic rail accident – a runaway train carrying 72 cars of crude ran into Lac-Megantic, Quebec killing 47 people and demolishing an entire town. While millions of carloads and containers traverse the country safely each year, too many accidents have occurred lately both in the freight and passenger sector. While the causes of these accidents vary and many investigations are ongoing, what is known is that more must be done to ensure that rail transportation is as safe and secure as possible for employees and the public.
For starters, too many rail workers, especially those responsible for operating trains and maintaining safety-sensitive equipment, are forced to report to work tired and fatigued. TTD has long called for federal rules to be changed to ensure that employees are given proper notice of when they will need to report to work and predictable schedules so that adequate rest can be secured.
Congress must also step in to stop rail companies from only “counting” certain hours that signal employees work as a way to get around federal rules limiting on-duty time. Let’s just say that there are some rail executives using creative calculating when it comes to adding up “covered work.” The problem is that this isn’t a game, and it is jeopardizing safety.
Congress must also adopt a mandated minimum crew size for freight train operations. Last year’s accident in Lac-Megantic, caused by a train that was operated by a single crew member, is a tragic reminder of the dangers posed by risky one-person rail operations. A freight train is massive – up to 19,000 tons and a mile and a half long – that simply should not be operated by one individual, especially given the myriad operating rules and regulations that must be followed. And while two-person crews are the norm on U.S. freight lines, crew size is often an issue determined by collective bargaining rather than federal mandate. Safety should not be bartered at the negotiating table. And by the way, the public agrees with us on this, with a series of polls showing that up to 9 out of 10 Americans believe #2crewtrains should be a national standard.
Fortunately, some lawmakers are taking steps to address rail safety. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jim Himes (D-CT), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) introduced legislation (H.R. 4576) earlier this year that mandates predictable and defined work and rest schedules and Congressman Michaud (D-ME) introduced a bill (H.R. 3040) requiring a minimum crew size for freight trains. We also applaud the Department of Transportation and its Federal Railroad Administration for moving on a new proposed rule on two-person train crew requirements. Strong federal action is needed because we know from experience that the rail lobby will dismiss and downplay these dangerous operating practices.
In addition, first responders require the necessary tools and training to effectively respond to rail accidents, particularly those involving hazardous materials. Domestic oil production has boomed and the amount of crude oil being shipped by rail has increased 70-fold in the last decade. Despite that fact, many firefighters receive an inadequate level of training that does little more than teach them to call for help in the case of a hazardous materials incident. Congress must direct adequate resources to states and localities for first responder training but also ensure that the level of training is sufficient.
This week’s anniversary of the tragedy in Lac-Megantic is a glaring reminder that it’s not just the workers on these trains that are endangered by unsafe rail industry practices. The neighborhoods and cities through which these trains travel should care just as much. Congress and the Administration must take strong, immediate action to close gaps in rail safety that expose too many to unnecessary risks.
TTD was proud to stand with President Obama yesterday at the foot of Key Bridge – a major artery of commercial and commuter traffic connecting Virginia to Washington D.C. But this bridge is “structurally deficient,” and like so much of our vast transportation system, is in need of significant investment and repair. With workers and equipment standing by, the President used this bridge to highlight the need to avoid a summer collapse of the Highway Trust Fund and to find a longer-term plan to put Americans back to work fixing and operating our deteriorating surface transportation system.
Here are the facts. Without action by Congress, the Highway Trust Fund will become insolvent and thus unable to finance investments in transit systems, roads, bridges and highway safety. Why? Policy makers have for years failed to fix a financing system that is simply broken and now the Trust Fund will run out of money in a few short weeks. If we let this happen, transportation construction projects that support thousands of good jobs will be put on hold, local transit services could be cut and long overdue upgrades in commuter rail will be further delayed. In this still fragile economy, self-inflicted wounds are the last thing we need. Yet this seems to be the path some Tea Party stalwarts want to pursue.
Yesterday, Department of Transportation Secretary Foxx told state and local transportation agencies that checks from the federal government that support construction and run buses and trains will be reduced to a bi-monthly basis and paid only as gas tax money comes in. This is not the way a modern economy goes about the serious business of meeting its transportation needs and restoring economic growth.
There is some good news. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has announced his panel will consider a short-term fix to the Trust Fund next week. To his credit, Chairman Wyden has been more than willing to work with his Republican colleagues to find a solution to this avoidable crisis. But to no one’s surprise, cooperation from key Republican leaders has been a little hard – ok, very hard – to find. That needs to change soon. If not, Members of Congress are going to have to tell thousands of unemployed transportation and construction workers why their political agenda is more important than good, middle-class jobs and a functioning transportation system.
For our part, we have endorsed several different funding proposals to pay for both our immediate and long-term transportation needs, including an increase in the federal fuels tax, which has been stagnant for over 20 years. At the same time, we will continue to oppose any politically and ideologically driven gimmick that is used to fund transportation. Cutting the pay or benefits of federal workers, eliminating six-day mail delivery, attacking labor standards and cutting domestic programs that working families depend on have all been proposed and all must be rejected.
It is time to focus on serious policy proposals – playing chicken with the Highway Trust Fund and the hundreds of thousands of jobs its supports makes no sense.
A recent Harris Poll asked Americans to identify their biggest pet peeves when traveling by air. The top responses? Passengers who abuse the overhead bin space and those who recline their seats. Now just imagine if passengers were allowed to talk on their phones throughout a flight, free to chat about business and their personal affairs just inches away from their neighbors. I think we’d have a new top pet peeve.
Unfortunately, this scenario could become a reality if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) goes through with its plan to lift a decades-old ban to allow passengers to use their phones while in-flight. Permitting in-flight cell phone use would not only create an additional nuisance for passengers seeking peace and quiet, but would also pose serious safety and security concerns.
Instead of dedicating their attention to the required tasks that keep passengers safe and the cabin environment calm, flight attendants would be forced to police phone calls and settle disputes when passengers become irritated by each other’s conversations. And with a cabin full of talking and texting passengers, the noise levels throughout the cabin are sure to rise, making it difficult for flight attendants and pilots to relay important safety announcements to distracted passengers.
Even more, the installation of broadband and normalization of passenger use of cell phones to place calls and send messages could be exploited by terrorists to undermine aviation security. Any potential risk that could jeopardize the security of our aviation system must be thoroughly assessed by the appropriate agencies. We raised these points and others in regulatory comments filed with the FCC and the Department of Transportation.
And just in case it’s been lost on federal regulators, the traveling public is far from clamoring for lifting the ban. In fact, polls suggest that the majority of fliers oppose the use of cell phones in-flight. Even Congress has come together to oppose the proposed change. Chairman Shuster’s bill to prohibit cell phone use was passed unanimously by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members, and bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate to likewise ban passengers from talking on their phones.
So, if in-flight cell phone use is unpopular with the public, would undermine the safety and comfort of passengers, impose undue burdens on flight crewmembers, and potentially jeopardize aviation security, why is it even being considering? The answer is that it shouldn’t and we will be sounding the alarm bell until this bad idea is shelved.
How bad is the proposal by House Republican leaders to fix the Highway Trust Fund’s shortfall by eliminating Saturday mail service? Consider this: 26 unions representing hundreds of thousands of transportation workers today announced their vociferous opposition to the plan.
To be sure these unions believe that stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund is a major priority – in fact, many represent members whose jobs are linked to fixing this funding crisis. But they know a scam when they see one. They know it’s a misguided idea that is more about ideology than solving problems; it will do nothing to solve our surface transportation funding needs – but will do much harm to Postal Service jobs and customers.
Of course, no one should be surprised by the so-called Highway Trust Fund Offset, because it’s straight out of the cynical playbook (too many “messaging bills and too few solutions) favored by too many politicians. And this latest proposal is really about robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Saturday mail service, which provides essential service to tens of millions of consumers and businesses while sustaining 80,000 middle-class jobs, would be slashed in order to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from running out of money. Republican Leaders argue that the “savings” from the reduction in postal service would keep the fund solvent – a false assertion since the resulting decreases in postal revenues could cancel out any savings.
Our good friend Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who as Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has had many sleepless nights worrying about this funding crisis, said it best: “This idea is a jobs killer … It is unworkable, makes no sense and ignores the huge infrastructure needs we face, as so many bridges and roads are in grave disrepair.”
Seeking to eliminate Saturday delivery would only serve to delay and distract policy makers from considering legitimate proposals that are necessary to avoid a summer default. As the unions state in their letter, “We should not have to choose between transit systems and decent highways and six-day delivery from the Postal Service. Slowing mail delivery and weakening the Postal Service will not solve our infrastructure crisis.”
It’s time to get serious about investing in the nation’s critical transportation needs.
The Boehner-Cantor-McCarthy plan is nothing more than a gimmick we cannot afford.
Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) effort to import its low-road economic model found a new opponent: the entire House of Representatives, which approved by voice vote last night an amendment rejecting this flag of convenience scheme.
For months we’ve been calling NAI out – through our #denyNAI campaign – for its plan to expand transatlantic service in more U.S. markets using an Irish subsidiary that scours the globe for cheap labor, lax regulatory enforcement and the weakest social laws possible to evade collective bargaining.
Reps. Westmoreland (R-GA) and DeFazio (D-OR) offered an amendment that lays down a marker declaring that expansion of our airline trade relationships must not come at the expense of our laws and U.S. airline jobs. And it embraces our view that foreign airlines such as NAI should not be permitted to game trade rules and gain an unfair competitive advantage over U.S. air carriers and their employees. This was a pretty straightforward amendment as we pointed out in a letter to the House last night before the vote:
We support open competition. We will not, however, stand idly by as one rogue airline seeks to undermine fair competition by scouring the globe for the cheapest labor and weakest regulations. Those who comply with those laws and follow the rules have nothing to fear from this amendment.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has the final authority over whether to approve Norwegian Air’s application to expand its transatlantic service to the U.S. Saying yes to NAI will open the floodgates to a Walmart-style race to the bottom in the global airline industry, ultimately jeopardizing tens of thousands of middle-class jobs while again failing to enforce and properly implement trade agreements. Rejecting Norwegian Air’s gambit will send a clear message that the U.S. has zero tolerance for operating schemes that violate trade agreements, sacrifice good jobs and leave airlines that play by the rules, both here and in Europe, at a competitive disadvantage.
For those who haven’t followed this sad saga Norwegian Air Shuttle created a subsidiary – Norwegian Air International (NAI) – which has obtained an air operators certificate in Ireland. Why Ireland? Because this allows NAI to bypass Norwegian labor laws and hire Thailand-based pilots whose individual employment contracts are governed by Singaporean law. But to execute this plan, NAI first needs a foreign air carrier permit from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In addition to last night’s House floor vote, there has been a groundswell of opposition to NAI’s application in Congress. 40 Senators, including Commerce Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Aviation Subcommittee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wrote to Secretary Foxx expressing their concerns. In the House, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Aviation Subcommittee Chair Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-WA) are among the over 100 members who have urged Foxx to reject the application. Most recently 33 GOP House members sent a letter led by Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) stating that “the NAS/NAI business model appears to be designed expressly in a manner that undermines U.S. and Norwegian labor standards. NAI’s filings submitted to [DOT] are misleading for a number of reasons, such as why NAI was established in Ireland and NAS’s treatment of its employees.”
The DOT has ample grounds to say no to NAI, as the proposed operating arrangement violates the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement (ATA), which expanded aviation trade but expressly rejected any use of the expanded rights to “lower labor standards.” These protections were negotiated into the agreement to stop NAI-like schemes from gaining a foothold in the transatlantic market.
Our government can’t ignore the groundswell of opposition to NAI’s scheme. And it can’t ignore the rare unity displayed by the major airlines, the labor movement and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Time to close this case. NAI’s scheme should not fly.
Most Americans are growing accustomed to the visible signs around them of a crumbling, outdated transportation infrastructure. Those who drive between Washington, DC and New York just found out that the bridge over the Christina River near Wilmington, DE is closed indefinitely because of tilted columns. Those who rely on public transit in places like Seattle and Pittsburgh know all too well that anemic funding coming out of Washington, combined with stressed state budgets is causing deep cuts in service. And Americans also see the signs of an unimpressive recovery and unacceptably slow job market – both a product of low growth policy strategies. What is perhaps most frustrating is that too many politicians are failing to see the solution, even when it smacks them in the face.
The traditional strategies have either failed or have little hope of succeeding. Historically low interest rates, designed to spur demand, haven’t paid-off because we haven’t used this era of near zero interest rates or “free money,” to actually invest in job-creating measures. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that putting public resources to work while interest rates are at historic lows makes good sense. Someone tell our leaders in Washington.
Inexplicably, the strategy of using massive public investments to rebuild our transportation infrastructure continues to meet head winds. And while you wouldn’t glean this from today’s rancor in Washington (such as a ridiculous proposal to offset highway and transit funding shortfalls by eliminating 6-day mail delivery), investing federal resources to modernize the transportation arteries of our economy and put people to work isn’t an idea owned by a single political party. Because both conservatives and liberals get a little upset when their bridge becomes wobbly or their transit service gets cut.
The laws that led to historic investments in our interstate highway and aviation networks were signed by President Eisenhower. President Kennedy signed the legislation that launched our public transit system. Those liberals, President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Reagan, got behind rebellious ideas like Amtrak’s creation or a federal gas tax to fund public transit, highways and bridges. And President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich cooperated to enact a large bill expanding surface transportation investments.
This is serious business. Our aviation system suffers from outdated technology and inadequate capacity, our rail and transit systems are forced to curtail service as demand soars, our bridges and highways are literally falling apart, and our starved ports and navigation channels are fast becoming uncompetitive with the rest of the world.
While there are still robust (and I might argue, ridiculous) debates ahead on the role of public investment as a tool for economic growth and job creation, the fact is that low interest rates alone haven’t spurred the pace of economic growth that’s needed. And this “free money” era – because it wasn’t married with a serious, well-funded transportation investment plan – will have been squandered unless we act soon. Yes that will require finding new money – and yes, it will require a little extra courage to make tough decisions like increasing fuel taxes or pushing other revenue raisers and tax reforms.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is right on the mark: “Better transportation has always led this nation to greater prosperity.” I couldn’t agree more. We won’t find prosperity for more Americans if we stop investing in transportation and keep deferring the bill to future generations.
For too long Washington has become the place where most good ideas go to die. Let’s hope low growth policies are fast replaced by a plan to rebuild, retool and expand a passenger and freight transportation system that can’t wait much longer for Washington to act.
Now that Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, is behind us, people planning their summer vacations are in search of the best deals in town. In these tough economic times, finding good deals can be the difference between staying home and affording summer travel.
A lot of people do the search on their own, or rely on travel journalists for the best advice on the best fares. I heard Peter Greenberg, a CBS travel editor, on the radio recently, talking about finding good deals and highlighting the cheap fares of intercity buses. The interview reminded me that travelers need to remember that price – in many cases shockingly cheap bus fares – doesn’t always tell the full story. In other words, cheaper isn’t always better.
The bus may have a shiny new paint job. It may even have reclining seats and Wi-Fi. But what really matters is the company’s safety record and the driver’s qualifications, wages and hours worked behind the wheel.
Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Greyhound and other drivers, said it best: “If a 40,000-pound vehicle traveling at high rate of speed overturns and smashes into a bridge or falls over a cliff, the lives of the occupants are going to be in grave danger, even if they are strapped in and the vehicle has the strength of a tank. The real problem here is that bus drivers are falling asleep at the wheel because they work grueling hours at abysmally low wages.”
While many of the intercity bus carriers providing affordable rides follow important regulations that keep passengers safe, others ignore basic safety measures to offer those outrageously low fares. We saw this when federal regulators, led by Anne Ferro, Administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, shutdown 26 bus operations in a single sweep for posing imminent safety hazards. As part of these unprecedented efforts, Ferro and her team continue to target and remove unsafe carriers from our roadways despite limited resources. Unfortunately, bad actors remain, trimming costs where they can to line their own pockets.
It’s a simple strategy. Cut corners by ignoring vehicle upkeep requirements and continue operating buses with out-of-date safety measures. Then, pay workers abhorrent wages and fail to ensure they comply with hours of service limitations. These abysmal wages combined with a longstanding loophole that exempts bus drivers from collecting overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, force workers to drive grueling hours while fatigued. This fatal cocktail places passengers, drivers and motorists in danger.
Passengers have another choice, one that offers both affordable fares and the assurance of arrival at their destination safely. They need to look under the hood and choose to travel with motor carriers that respect their employees, abide by safety rules and pay a living wage so the drivers don’t have to drive excessive hours well beyond what is safe. And they need to know that their drivers aren’t being ripped off of overtime pay and thus forced to work too many hours or multiple jobs.
As Greenberg and other travel journalists continue to help average Americans afford some well-deserved R&R, we hope they remember the larger costs associated with giving away the seat and cutting all the wrong corners. Before you pack your bags this summer and book your ticket at a rock bottom fare, consider if that bus can actually be safe if the seat is almost free.
Yes, the former Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday urged Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to reject NAI’s application for a foreign air operator’s certificate to expand its long-haul transatlantic service.
Mr. Oberstar’s decision to go public against the NAI application shouldn’t surprise anyone. For 36 years as a member of the committee with primary oversight authority over the aviation industry, Mr. Oberstar always called out scams when he saw one. Drawing on his experience and expertise in this area, Mr. Oberstar writes that NAI’s application violates the U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement and threatens the future viability of the U.S. airline industry and its workforce. He also writes that competition in the transatlantic market “must not be set by those (read: NAI) who would seek to gain an unfair advantage at the expense of quality jobs and high labor standards.”
As usual, transportation workers and the nation can always count on Mr. Oberstar to weigh in on the side of good jobs, sound transportation policy and fair competition. He joins a growing list of airlines and unions on both sides of the Atlantic, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, over 100 U.S Senators and Representatives, and others who have stood up against NAI’s nefarious strategy. We hope Secretary Foxx soon comes to the same conclusion and denies NAI’s application.