188 Members of Congress Urge U.S. DOT to #DenyNAI

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How strongly do members of Congress feel that Norwegian Air International (NAI)’s application for a foreign air carrier permit should be denied?

Yesterday, on the eve of a U.S.-European Commission (EC) Joint Committee meeting to discuss the NAI case, 188 House members, led by Reps. Chris Collins (R-NY) and Albio Sires (D-NJ), delivered an unambiguous message to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx: reject it.

NAI’s business plan – which involves basing in Ireland despite no plans to fly in or out of that country, and hiring workers based in Bangkok through a Singaporean hiring agency, all to avoid Norway’s strong labor protections, tax laws, and regulations – is a clear violation of Article 17 bis of the U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement, which sets rules for aviation trade.

“NAI’s flag-of-convenience business model does not comply with U.S. and international law,” the members of the House write, and it “would be detrimental to the future of the U.S. aviation industry, aviation workers, and our national economy.”

The bipartisan letter – the signatories include 56 Republicans – reaffirms what members of Congress have been saying over the past several months. This summer the House of Representatives unanimously approved an amendment that bars DOT from approving a foreign air carrier permit that violates Article 17 bis or U.S. law. Since then, countless senators and representatives have sent letters urging the DOT to reject NAI’s application.

Earlier this year, the DOT dismissed NAI’s request for an exemption that would have allowed the airline to begin transatlantic service while its permit application was under review. In its order dismissing NAI’s exemption, the DOT noted that a temporary exemption would not be “appropriate or in the public interest.” In their letter, the members of Congress state that they “remain concerned that granting NAI’s application for a foreign air carrier permit would not be in the public interest and would unfairly put domestic airlines at a competitive disadvantage.”

At a time when bipartisan consensus has been difficult to achieve, the rejection of NAI’s illegal business plan has united members of Congress across ideological divides. It’s now time for DOT to definitively affirm its commitment to enforce our aviation trade accords, and to reject NAI’s application.

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Joint Declaration of U.S. and European Transportation Unions in Opposition To Norwegian Air International Flag of Convenience Scheme

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Air Line Pilots Association, International European Cockpit Association
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA European Transport Workers Federation
International Association of Machinists
and Aerospace Workers
Norsk Flygerforbund (Norwegian ALPA)
Transport Workers Union Parat
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

 

As leaders of transportation unions on both sides of the Atlantic, we call on the governments of the United States and the European Union to uphold their commitment to strong labor standards and the principles upon which the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement (ATA) was negotiated. With the U.S.-EU Joint Committee once again set to meet in a closed-door session to discuss the application of Norwegian Air International (NAI) for a foreign air carrier permit with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), we believe that it is time for our governments to take the actions needed to promote positive growth, the creation of middle class airline jobs, and the highest standards for safety and security in the transatlantic aviation marketplace. And we further believe that this starts with the rejection of NAI’s flag of convenience scheme.

The U.S.-EU ATA is the foundation for a powerful and growing airline trade alliance, and one that holds great promise for air travelers, for the American and European economies, and for airline job creation. Central to achieving this, however, is the strong enforcement and application of Article 17 bis – the “social clause” – of the ATA. Article 17 bis was adopted as part of the Second Stage negotiations which concluded in 2010. It states that “the opportunities created by the Agreement are not intended to undermine labour standards or the labour-related rights and principles contained in the Parties’ respective laws.” This important labor protection was the first of its kind and was heralded by negotiators as a revolutionary commitment to strong labor standards and worker protections and high-road airline business models.

If NAI’s application is approved, however, the proposed NAI business model will reduce Article 17 bis to an empty talking point. The facts surrounding this application have been extensively detailed in the public docket. While Norwegian in origin and ownership, NAI already operates as an Irish air carrier, while its air crews are employed on individual employment contracts with a Singaporean hiring agency and based in Thailand. Furthermore, NAI has not yet indicated any plans for any meaningful flight operations into or out of Ireland. The clear and stated purpose behind establishing NAI outside of Norway is to avoid the application of Norway’s legitimate labor, social, and tax laws, and to evade existing collective bargaining agreements. In other words, NAI wishes to develop social dumping. By definition NAI is attempting to launch a flag of convenience operating scheme of the kind that the ATA and specifically, Article 17 bis, was written to prevent.

NAI’s flag of convenience model would set a dangerous precedent for the transatlantic marketplace. If allowed to proceed unchecked, it will open the door to airlines that compete for international routes by shopping the globe for the lowest tax, regulatory, and labor standards. U.S. and European labor organizations were directly engaged in and present during the U.S.-EU negotiations and know that the business model proposed by NAI is inconsistent with both the intent and the spirit of the ATA.

In addition, it is imperative that safety and security issues are adequately considered and addressed as airlines such as NAI attempt to establish business operations based on forum-shopping for lax rules and regulations. The U.S. and European governments must insist on the highest standards for safety and security and aggressive enforcement of those standards has been the cornerstone of the safest aviation marketplace in the world. In light of comments by Norway’s Ministry of Transportation, the European Transport Workers Federation has raised concerns with the European Commission that foreign cabin crew are not subject to the same criminal background checks as European cabin crew. To date, there has been no response to these concerns. It is critically important that our respective governments enforce the same security requirements, including comprehensive criminal background checks that are imposed on airline employees in the U.S. and Europe. Forum-shopping must never be permitted to undermine safety and security.

As the elected representatives of airline workers on both sides of the Atlantic, we welcome robust competition within the industry and firmly believe that fair competition and steady growth will expand quality job opportunities for our members. However, unless this competition is based on a foundation of respect for fundamental labor rights and fair business practices the economic gains will be few and short lived, while the long-term job losses will be staggering.

We are proud to stand with a diverse group – including American and European airlines as well as elected officials across the political spectrum – in opposing NAI’s application. Our respective governments have an obligation to live up to and enforce the explicit commitments to protect workers’ rights and high labor standards that are embodied in the ATA. Anything short of an outright rejection of NAI’s flag of convenience scheme will be unacceptable.

We are committed to working with our respective governments, and with our airlines, to build a transatlantic aviation industry that promotes middle class job growth and high labor standards, expands economic opportunity, and continues the prosperous aviation trade partnership between Europe and the United States.

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Ed Wytkind in The Hill: Norwegian Air deal undermines labor standards

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Cue the stately intro music: Norwegian Air International (NAI) CEO Bjørn Kjos is taking tips on how the U.S. government functions from Netflix’s D.C. drama, House of Cards.

In a series of articles this fall in Dagens Næringsliv, Norway’s business newspaper, Kjos suggested that American opposition to NAI’s request for a foreign air carrier permit is all a symptom of what he clearly sees as a corrupt House of Cards-style American political system where “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

Apparently Kjos believes opposition to his company’s proposal is all the result of backdoor deals like the ones that take place in the fictional series about a South Carolina congressman. But in this case, truth is actually stranger than fiction since the NAI case could itself be a miniseries devoted to how to blatantly circumvent international aviation trade deals like the U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement, upend labor laws, and evade collective bargaining obligations. In fact, this miniseries would no doubt play as a classic dark comedy, since the setup itself reads like an elaborate joke: NAI plans to headquarter its operations in Ireland rather than Norway – despite having no plans to fly in or out of that country – and to hire Bangkok-based workers through a Singaporean hiring agency, all in order to circumvent Norwegian labor laws. NAI claims that the article of the U.S.-EU agreement that stipulates that the “opportunities created by the Agreement are not intended to undermine labour standards” simply doesn’t apply here. Cue up the laugh track. 

Read the rest on The Hill.

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Seeking Better Safety for All Commercial Motor Vehicles

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Whether traveling through New England, the Northwest, or in between, passengers riding on an intercity or charter bus expect to reach their destination safely. To better understand how to ensure this remains the case, the federal agency responsible for setting safety standards for commercial motor vehicles—including both buses and trucks—has wisely decided to study whether driver compensation affects driver safety performance. Unfortunately, the agency plans to exclude bus drivers from the scope of the study.

As it stands, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) study will focus only on truck driver compensation. While it’s important to study this issue in the trucking industry, excluding bus drivers from the study ignores a segment of the motor carrier sector where driver and passenger safety problems run rampant. That’s why both TTD and the Amalgamated Transit Union, a TTD affiliate, submitted comments yesterday asking FMCSA to expand its study to include bus drivers.

This expansion of the study is especially critical when you consider that unlike 85 percent of the American workforce, motorcoach operators aren’t guaranteed overtime pay. As a result, drivers are forced to work grueling hours and routinely hold second jobs during their alleged rest periods just to make ends meet. A previous study conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board in 2011 found that drivers’ second jobs contribute to fatigue, sometimes leading “to hours-of-service violations from driving after on-duty limits had been reached.” That same agency also finds that driver fatigue is the culprit behind more than one-third of intercity bus crash fatalities. This is an issue that sorely needs to be addressed by FMCSA, and including motorcoach operators in its study would be an excellent place to start.

Individuals across the country are increasingly relying on buses for travel. As FMCSA examines the role of employee compensation in CMV safety, it’s crucial that the agency not overlook this important and growing sector.

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Hear Ed Wytkind Discuss the Election on America’s Work Force Radio

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Did you miss TTD President Ed Wytkind discussing the midterm elections on America’s Work Force Radio yesterday? You’re in luck — you can listen to the show here.

Races across the country are looking tight, and there’s an enormous amount at stake for workers and for our transportation infrastructure. “The folks that know something about the infrastructure of our country understand that federal stewardship and federal funding is going to get it done, and they also know that we need real funding, not fairy dust,” Ed explains. But “we’ve got an incredible lineup of Republican members running for the Senate that are just awful when it comes to the economy, when it comes to worker rights.” Tune in to learn more about those Republican candidates and why it’s so important that we elect leaders who are willing and able to look to the long term.

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Ed Wytkind on the Huffington Post: Electing to Support Our Economy

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This election cycle, Americans have a decision to make. Either we can choose to elect those who have proven themselves to have the courage and the foresight to make decisions with the long-term benefit of working people in mind, or we can elect those who are too shortsighted and too captive to special interests to make the calls that will help our nation thrive.

Too many candidates trying to win seats in this election think the answer to improving the U.S. economy is to retrench into partisan positions that at best do nothing, and at worst undermine job creation, permit our infrastructure to fall apart and strip workers of their rights to form and join unions and bargain for fair wages.

It’s up to Americans to show Congress that partisan retrenchment is not the answer. Our bridges are falling down, our roads are crumbling, our transit and rail systems can’t meet their growing demand, our aviation system is using decades-old technology and our ports suffer from chronic under-investment. We need a Congress that will work together to make our infrastructure work for the next generation and beyond, not squabble over short-term funding bills. We need a Congress that will fight to ensure that more Americans have access to good, safe, middle-class jobs. And we need a Congress that doesn’t shy away from telling the truth to the American people that without a fully-funded long-term plan (and yes, that might mean raising the federal gas tax) to invest in our transportation system, our economy will crumble.

But that Congress is in jeopardy.

Read the rest on The Huffington Post.

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Investing in Infrastructure to Put America to Work

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It’s no secret that we’re underinvesting in our transportation infrastructure. It’s been years since Congress passed a long-term surface transportation funding bill, our aviation system relies on outdated technology, and the last rail funding authorization expired more than a year ago. Across all modes of transportation and across the entire nation, we’ve underinvested to such an extent that we’re stifling growth and the system’s capacity. And as demonstrated by a new report from the Duke Center for Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness and the Alliance for American Manufacturing, in the process we’re undeniably injuring the American economy.

First and foremost, the report shows that each time we fail to invest in the long-term needs of our transportation infrastructure, we’re keeping Americans out of work. According to the report, “Expanding federal funding consistent with U.S. DOT’s request … ($114.2 billion per year) would result in over 2.47 million jobs, or 58% more jobs than current funding levels, and over $404 billion in total economic impact.” On that basis alone, transportation investment should be a no-brainer.

The report also explains how adequate investment will ensure that the U.S. remains a global economic power. When we fail to invest in our infrastructure, the report explains, we diminish “the competitiveness of U.S. businesses” by reducing their ability to efficiently move goods to market relative to our economic competitors. It’s crucial that we invest in such a way that the returns benefit local economies: programs like Buy America deliver “economic benefits to the U.S. economy” and “mitigate the safety risks of using potentially inferior-quality foreign inputs.” When projects avoid Buy America coverage, the funds invested in them “leak away” from domestic manufacturers and construction companies; in the case of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, that leakage represented 27% of total funds. That’s $1.75 billion that could have been reinvested in the American economy, creating jobs and supporting local businesses.

As the Duke/AAM report shows, the return on our investment is clearly in our favor: every dollar invested in transportation infrastructure returns $3.54 in economic impact. That’s a return we can’t afford to pass up. Read the report here.

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Jobs to Move America in Al-Jazeera America: Putting Our Transit Dollars to Work

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Each year, public transportation agencies spend $5.4 billion on buses and trains. That represents an enormous investment of our taxpayer dollars, but in the absence of common-sense procurement reforms much of it ends up going to companies that manufacture components abroad.

Together with the Jobs to Move America coalition, TTD has been working to change that. As TTD President Ed Wytkind puts it, “We reward bad employers who don’t pay living wages, who outsource most of their work overseas, who do not provide decent benefits, worker training. This is an opportunity to finally see procurement reward good employers. … This is a no-brainer.”

So far, we’re seeing steady progress: we’ve convinced Amtrak, L.A. Metro, and the Chicago Transit Authority that our transit dollars should be invested to build transportation manufacturing capacity and jobs here at home. A recent article in Al-Jazeera America has the details.

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Ed Wytkind on the Huffington Post: So Now Replacing 100-Year Old Tunnels Is a Liberal Boondoggle?

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On October 2nd, Amtrak reported that four of its century-old underwater rail tunnels in and out of New York City are in need of extensive repairs and that service will be “badly curtailed” — terrible news for both daily commuters and passengers who take 260 million trips a year along the vital Northeast Corridor. While some may see this as a local issue, this transportation crisis could cripple a region that produces 20 percent of our GDP. More importantly, how elected leaders respond will say a lot about whether we have the will to fix highways and bridges, provide transit service, build runways and modernize seaports in communities across the country.

So far we have a mixed bag. Four years ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cancelled the already-funded and underway Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) program, which would have built an additional rail tunnel under the Hudson River. At the time, the case for this transportation lifeline was clear: capacity of the existing tunnels was near 100 percent and delays were already rampant. With the new tunnel, train service would have doubled, generating 32,500 new trips daily. And given that the existing tunnels were built 100 years ago — things do have a tendency to break down and fixing tunnels that are underwater while they are being used is, well, a little tricky.

Then Superstorm Sandy came and flooded both tubes under the Hudson and two of the four tubes under the East River. Repairs can be made to the East River tunnel, with terrible delays, by shutting down one tube at a time. Under the Hudson, where the tunnel that Governor Christie killed would have been, that option is simply not available.

Read the rest of TTD President Ed Wytkind’s article on The Huffington Post.

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Launching a New Era in Job Creation

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Did you miss TTD’s president, Ed Wytkind, on the Rick Smith Show last week? If so, never fear: we’ve got the interview here on our blog.

Tune in to hear Ed discuss where the billions of dollars we spend replacing our aging railcars and buses ends up, and how TTD, along with the Jobs to Move America coalition, is making sure those public funds are used to maximize U.S. transportation manufacturing job creation. Because if we’re spending $5-6 billion per year replacing railcars and other rolling stock, Ed points out, “Why not do it in a way that maximizes U.S. job creation? Why not reward high-road employers? And why not make the bidding process – the way in which we procure those purchases – reward those companies that give living wages, have good benefits, have pensions and retirement systems, and have real worker training?”

Listen to the show to find out how we’re making it happen.

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