TTD was proud to stand with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and other transportation advocates this week in support of new legislation that will fix the broken funding mechanism for our nation’s transit, highway and road safety programs.
The bill, formally titled the Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials (UPDATE) Act (H.R. 3636), would gradually increase, by 15 cents, the per gallon tax on gasoline and diesel over the next three years and deposit the proceeds into the Highway Trust Fund. If something is not done to shore up this fund, it will go into insolvency next year and send our already maligned transportation system into further disrepair and put thousands on the unemployment line.
Larry Willis, TTD Secretary-Treasurer, spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference and told attendees:
This bill is about creating and sustaining jobs for transit employees, construction workers and those who depend on an efficient and multimodal transportation system. It is about reversing years of neglect and underinvestment in our transit systems, highways and bridges. And it is about boosting the ability of our businesses to move goods efficiently and providing Americans with safe and reliable commutes.
Here is the problem – we are trying to run a 2013 surface transportation system on a 1993 budget. Of course it’s not working. Bridges are literally falling down, highway delays are choking our economy and public transit systems are cutting routes and jobs while Americans are demanding more transportation options.
We are in this moment in time where the nation needs its surface transportation infrastructure modernized and expanded and millions of workers are unemployed or underemployed.
Congress must summon the political will to do what virtually everyone agrees must be done.
TTD’s Executive Committee adopted a policy statement earlier in the year that called on Congress and the Administration to address the funding shortfall and noted that the “simplest solution to the threat of insolvency is to increase the gas tax and index it for inflation.” The Executive Committee also noted that other options including the imposition of a vehicle mile traveled (VMT) fee should be considered as a longer-term approach.
What’s clear is that we cannot allow Washington gridlock to prevent us from failing to meet the most basic transportation and job needs of the nation.
Often we see labor and management on different sides of workplace issues especially when it comes to the implementation of a new collective bargaining agreement. It was thus somewhat unusual to see the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and its employer representative—the New York Shipping Association (NYSA)—come together to sue the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor over the Commission’s heavy-handed tactics designed to derail a hiring plan worked out by labor and management.
As detailed in the lawsuit filed in federal court, the Commission is interfering with the union contract in violation of the state compact that created the Commission and federal law. As part of the agreement, the parties agreed to increased productivity standards and a recruitment and hiring program that calls for half the new hires to be honorably discharged veterans and the remaining workers referred from the union and the employers. Current staffing shortages and increases in cargo volume at the NY/NJ port necessitate the immediate hiring of 682 employees (a number agreed to by both labor and management) yet the Commission has systematically blocked the filling of these positions.
The compact expressly prohibits the Commission from interfering “in any way [with] any right of longshoremen…or their employers to bargain collectively and agree upon any method for the selection of such employees by way of seniority, experience…or otherwise.” But that is exactly what the Commission is doing here and it is unfortunate that a lawsuit is even necessary to enforce this most basic tenant. TTD President Ed Wytkind has already sent a letter to the governors of New York and New Jersey asking them to weigh in and stop the Commission from exceeding its statutory authority and wading into labor-management relations. Hopefully the federal courts will have better luck.
To add further irony, this comes at a time when transportation labor (including the ILA) has joined with business and employer groups to push for a multi-billion-dollar port and water resources improvement bill working its way through Congress. A House and Senate conference committee is working to finalize a bill and U.S. ports could soon see enhanced dredging projects and other harbor improvements that have been stuck in perpetual backlog. The last thing anybody should be doing is interfering with the staffing of these ports and failing to make them competitive in the international marketplace.
It is time for the Waterfront Commission to stand down and let labor and management implement its agreement.
Members of Congress responsible for our nation’s transportation systems, including our national passenger rail system, are once again considering the reauthorization of Amtrak. The choice is clear: give Amtrak the resources it needs, or choose the routine ritual of starving it and wondering why we don’t have faster trains and more service.
As a backdrop, we are in an era where backward thinking by a few is holding up vital investments in our economy like a modern Amtrak network that can shorten travel times and offer Americans safe service that reflects 21st century technology. Since when has the rest of the world out-innovated us? Why can China and Europe plan for a 300 mph train while we chug along at double digit speeds in most places? Answer: because austerity-at-any-cost extremists in Congress have wielded too much power in Washington.
For those who will lead the rewrite of Amtrak law, let’s be clear: no country on the face of the earth has created an efficient national passenger rail system without large-scale public funding and extensive government oversight. It can’t be done. And even those who claim private companies do it better overseas, conveniently ignore that those “private” entities are using publicly funded infrastructure. Facts are stubborn here.
Amtrak is operating with infrastructure that was built in the middle of the last century and in some cases the late 19th century. It has been set up to fail by some who want to starve it first and then declare it a failed government program.
Given that Americans of all political stripes support Amtrak, there’s no reason for the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) to fall victim to the kind of extremist congressional antics we have seen in the last couple years. Let’s remember that in 2008, PRIIA received broad bipartisan support and was signed into law by that liberal President Bush.
Here are the essential elements of a plan:
- Adequate Funding: Reauthorizing Amtrak will mean little unless Congress approves the long-term federal funding needed to implement a true modernization plan.
- Recognition of Amtrak as the lynchpin of our national network: Amtrak has an established national network which includes an extensive reservation system, mature relationships with the freight railroads, a skilled workforce, the physical infrastructure needed to support high-speed rail initiatives and decades of demonstrated compliance with all federal rail safety requirements.
- Safeguards against privatization and contracting out schemes: The misguided attempts to put Amtrak in private hands and sell off its assets must end. So should attempts by some to contract out the jobs of onboard Amtrak professionals. Amtrak was created because private passenger rail service went bankrupt–let’s not go down that road again.
- Stronger Buy America provisions: Investment in Amtrak offers a great opportunity to create manufacturing jobs here at home by strengthening PRIIA’s Buy America requirements consistent with our Jobs to Move America coalition agenda.
- Vigorous worker protections: Amtrak has a dedicated and experienced workforce that will be critical in rolling out, operating and maintaining new passenger rail services. These workers must be treated fairly.
- Long distance trains: A national passenger rail system cannot be limited to the busy Northeast corridor. We must find a way to ensure that all Americans across this country have reasonable access to Amtrak service.
For those in Congress who get squeamish at the thought of a major financial investment by the federal government, consider this: polls have shown that people support public funding for Amtrak, whether they are liberal or conservative, big city or rural. The people want it, and they know it won’t be free.
In other words, if you fund it…they will ride it.
[As published by Ed Wytkind in the Huffington Post]
These are sobering times if you believe that returning to the days when America actually built things and modernized its economy is critical to our future. From sequestration to the recent government shutdown and inaction on a real job investment platform, 2013 has been the year of backward thinking, as extreme elements within one party have imposed their Dark Ages ideology on the nation.
Fortunately there is another vision for the U.S., one grounded in reality and sound economic practices. It is a vision not unlike the one that guided America during the decades when investment in the lifeblood of our economy — public transit, aviation, rail, roads, bridges, ports and waterways — made us the envy of the world.
This vision was alive and well at a recent gathering of labor leaders in Washington, where the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) held an Executive Committee meeting focused on a new way forward. There was no Tea Party talk about bleeding the government dry or pushing the economy to the brink of collapse. Instead the focus was on the very real business of rebuilding the country’s transportation system, putting the American economy back on track and countering those who believe sequestration and threatened shutdowns are the “new normal.”
Years of neglect have brought us to the breaking point when it comes to our transportation systems. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said it succinctly: “Because we have not done our jobs when it comes to investing in the future, the U.S. no longer ranks among the World Economic Forum’s top 10 countries in terms of infrastructure quality and investment.” That’s it in a nutshell — we stop investing for a generation and we slip to the middle of the pack when it comes to readying our economy for what lies ahead.
This is not an issue that should be partisan or even open to reasonable debate. That’s why, for example, more than 70 percent of manufacturers — whose livelihood relies on efficiently receiving what they need to produce and ship their goods to market — believe our nation’s infrastructure is failing us. It is why in a town where the labor movement and the business lobby disagree on many things, we are on the same page with the Chamber of Commerce on the need to invest and end this austerity nonsense.
But facts apparently are of no significance to extreme elements in our political system and think tank community that have done everything in their power to stop the U.S. from investing in its future. The madness that began with sequestration and its devastating cuts has continued, culminating in a government shutdown that cost the U.S. economy an estimated $24 billion. For America’s mobility, this reckless strategy slowed air safety projects, shutdown all transportation improvement grants, idled transportation construction jobs, and even threatened the U.S. Merchant Marine, which does very little other than ensure America’s preparedness for military and humanitarian missions.
The U.S. cannot afford much more of this amateur-hour policymaking. The costs to our economy are too great. It is time for a bipartisan agreement to make the necessary long-term investments in transportation systems and infrastructure.
A good model for such an agreement is last week’s passage in the House of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). The House voted 417-3 to approve the first water resources jobs bill since 2007, which will strengthen America’s competitiveness through improvements to our ports, harbors and waterways. The Senate passed a similar bill in May by an 83-14 vote. With several large transportation investment bills pending in Congress and sequestration and another shutdown staring us in the face, we will learn quickly whether WRRDA was a trend or a short-lived flirtation with common sense.
It is time to face down the extremists that are exerting too much control over the future of our economy and its transportation network. While there’s a small minority that thinks this reckless agenda is good for America, the rest of us reject it. For our part, transportation unions are committed to making sure America starts building things again and stops letting a few out of step lawmakers control the fate of our economy and the tools it relies on such as safe and modern passenger and freight transportation.
Follow @EdWytkind on Twitter.
We focused like a laser on the need to counter the toxic agenda of political extremists—who gave us brilliant ideas like sequestration and the government shutdown—as a threat to our nation and irresponsible scapegoating of federal workers.
The plan we rolled out, embodied in 10 policy actions by our Executive Committee, comprehensively addresses issues across all modes of transportation—in aviation, passenger and freight rail, public transit, highways, and port and maritime industries.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx appeared before us for the first time. Among the issues we discussed, from finding a long-term fix to the broken surface transportation and aviation funding mechanisms, to dealing with the continuing threat to the Maritime Security Program and port investment initiatives, to the need to give Amtrak the resources it needs, to several international aviation challenges, the conversation unearthed many common views and interests.
Foxx told us Tuesday:
“I am thrilled to sit down with so many transportation labor leaders today, during my first meeting with the Transportation Trades Department Executive Committee as Secretary of Transportation. You know firsthand the difference that good transportation projects can make, and I look forward to continuing to work with you to support efforts like our Buy America program, which has helped ensure that American projects are made by American workers using American materials. Together, we can provide the country with transportation systems that increase safety, strengthen the economy, improve mobility and increase everyone’s quality of life.”
We hosted two other special guests – Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV).
Rep. LoBiondo, chair of the House aviation subcommittee, believes America can’t stand still and stop investing in our transportation system. His philosophy has been a breath of fresh air throughout his 18 years in office as he has voted with working people and for middle-class principles—whether his party leaders agreed with him or not.
And finally, I cannot say enough about Rep. Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who has been a champion over the years for the working men and women in transportation. As usual, we had a free flowing discussion about rebuilding and expanding America’s transportation system and promoting policies that create middle-class jobs.
Transportation unions came together this week demonstrating what we’ve always believed: there is nothing more dizzying to politicians than transportation unions in all sectors—private and public—coming together to forge a common agenda. That principle was on display Tuesday and here is what we agreed to:
End sequestration and replace it with serious budget policies focused on economic expansion and job creation.
Reject the Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS) operating scheme, a plan expressly baked to “forum shop for cheap labor” and evade collective bargaining obligations.
Federally mandate two-person crews on freights trains, to safeguard workers and the public from the dangers associated with forcing a single crew member to handle all duties during normal operations and emergencies.
Support a global solution to aviation emissions rather than the unilateral approach attempted by the European Union.
Fully fund the Maritime Security Program to maintain a system that is critical to our nation’s military and economic security.
Reform harbor maintenance spending and pass the Water Resources Development Act, to make America more competitive and create thousands of jobs.
Reform the airport contract screening program by establishing a balanced process for evaluating private screening companies—and treating the current federal screener workforce fairly.
Close the overtime protection loophole in our law that denies intercity bus drivers the same protections enjoyed by 85 percent of Americans.
Combat the epidemic of assaults against bus drivers and provide sufficient time and facilities for driver bathroom breaks.
Join the Jobs to Move America Coalition, led by LAANE, to pursue rail car and bus procurement policies that reward good employers, boost American manufacturing jobs and connect veterans and people in disadvantaged communities to middle class jobs.
Stay tuned as we roll out these initiatives.
I’m looking forward to hosting TTD’s fall Executive Committee meeting next week. Strange concept: we’ll be welcoming a guest to our meeting, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), who votes with working people whether his party agrees with him or not. Yes, we’ll welcome a member of Congress who, if it existed, would be a member of the House Middle Class First Caucus.
LoBiondo brings a gravitas to our conversation, as House aviation subcommittee chair, by being a member who is in the room when major transportation legislation is being written. But his expertise goes well beyond aviation—we’ll have a chance to talk shop with him on all the passenger and freight transportation issues confronting the nation and the challenges confronting transportation workers.
Rep. LoBiondo believes America can’t stand still and stop investing in our transportation system. That philosophy has kept millions of transportation and construction workers gainfully employed.
When some thought it was a good idea to change federal policy so that foreign interests can own and control U.S. airlines and threaten middle-class jobs, LoBiondo led the fight to stop that.
Every time a House member tries to defund or break up Amtrak the Congressman goes to work to stop those efforts.
When some in his own party tried to deny airline and rail worker fair rules to form and join unions, LoBiondo voted no.
He opposed recent attempts to scapegoat public transit, Amtrak and federal workers in the surface transportation bill.
When politicians in both parties tried to undermine the U.S. Merchant Marine and the good jobs it supports and sealift capacity it provides to our military, LoBiondo championed the opposition.
And he has always believed in (and voted for) protecting construction workers with federal prevailing wage protections.
With all the big transportation bills staring us in the face, this visit with LoBiondo gives us a chance to begin a strategic mobilization behind a “middle class first” transportation policy.
One of those was House floor action on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), a bill critical to keeping our nation’s waterways flowing with trade, maintaining maritime and construction jobs, and growing our economy. This bill (H.R.3080), which is now back on track and scheduled for House floor action tomorrow, includes important reforms to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that uses taxes collected on commercial shippers to pay for the maintenance and operation of our channels, ports and harbors.
As the most conservative in Congress push a reckless austerity agenda, we are falling further and further behind in international trade.
So, how does America stay competitive? We need the House to pass a multi-year water resources bill and reject any amendments that would weaken the bipartisan support this bill has garnered or undermine the interests of workers. H.R. 3080 and a Senate bill passed in May, we are happy to note, steadily increase the amount of money spent from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund on actual harbor maintenance projects—a policy TTD has long pushed.
More than 50 years have passed since we opened the world’s first container terminal at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Today, rather than being on the forefront of transportation innovation, we find ourselves staggering to keep up and hampered by ports and harbors that are underfunded and outdated, as demonstrated by the mediocre “C” grade given them by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is dumping billions into their harbors to be able to accommodate a new breed of mega ships coming through the Panama Canal with deeper drafts that require modernized terminals and deeper depths.
We cannot continue to sit idly by. It is time. It is time to get our nation’s water resources properly funded. Our economy can’t wait.
It may be tempting to treat the recent government shutdown like a nightmare and just wake up and move on as if it never happened. Unfortunately, the damage caused by this reckless stunt is all too real while the lessons of this sad chapter in American history must be clearly understood so we don’t repeat them again.
The focus of the media has been the cost to America’s global reputation and to our fragile economic recovery, which in both cases has been substantial. By some estimates, the shutdown took $24 billion out of the U.S. economy, and reduced projected fourth-quarter GDP growth by 20 percent. Less has been said about the impact of the shutdown (and a backdrop of austerity-laced politics) on the nation’s vital transportation systems and infrastructure, including transit and rail, airports and air traffic control, roads and bridges, and our port and maritime systems that together form the arteries of the economy.
Here are some sobering shutdown facts to consider:
- “Next Gen” air traffic control modernization project charged with making air travel more efficient and safer, suffered major setbacks that could lead to further delays.
- Thousands of aviation safety inspectors and other key personnel were sent home impacting oversight of commercial and general aviation aircraft, aircraft repair facilities here and overseas, and airline operations.
- Department of Transportation grant making to states and their contractors, transit authorities, airports, ports and Amtrak came to a screeching halt because key personnel were sent home. This delayed vital projects and idled construction and transportation jobs.
- $152 million a day was lost in lost travel spending, which hit the pocket books of transportation workers and threatened businesses of all sizes that drive our economy.
- The National Transportation Safety Board was unable to initiate investigations into 14 accidents including fatal ones involving aviation, bus and rail, and suspended work on more than 1,000 investigations in all modes of transportation.
- Runway safety and expansion projects at several major airports, including Dallas Fort Worth, Chicago O’Hare and Long Beach, Calif., were halted.
- Federal labor boards (NLRB, NMB) charged with protecting workers’ rights suspended virtually all work.
- Major transportation contractors of the federal government such as Lockheed Martin and United Technologies furloughed thousands of workers in middle-class jobs.
If you’re getting nervous reading this, you should be. The safety and prosperity of Americans and businesses that rely on our transportation grid have been put at risk–all in the interest of pushing this reckless agenda of Tea Party activists who, by the way, rely on the transportation systems and economy they just undermined every bit as much as the rest of us.
So, we’ve seen the playbook. Shutdown the government and send almost a million federal workers home without pay to get your way. Threaten to stop the government from paying its bills to get your way. Oppose investments in our economy such as transportation expansion and modernization to get your way. Force us to live in an economy that loses 20 percent of its economic output every quarter, until you get your way.
This is hardly a tea party – it’s a how-to manual on ruining the economy.
We’re ready to write the manual on rebuilding the middle class before the same game-losing plays are called again in January.
As extremists in the House and Senate toy with their strategy du jour–threaten a government shutdown and force the United States to default on its debt–I want to offer a simple congressional questionnaire for our elected officials. [Note: I have provided the answers below just in case you’re unsure.]
A little background first.
The issues we are facing today–threatened government shutdown, the sequester nightmare, the possibility that the U.S. fails to pay its bills and a wobbly job market–are serious issues in need of serious solutions from the people we elect.
Careening from one budget crisis to the next is no way to run a government.
Telling the world that the U.S. may have to stop paying its bills for a while will roil global financial markets and put Americans out of work.
Hostage-taking strategies don’t solve problems or put a single American to work–they promise to keep Americans waiting for the people they elect to get serious about pushing policies that create middle-class jobs.
There are still 11.3 million Americans out of work and America’s transportation system is falling apart. In fact, the nation’s leading civil engineers give America’s transportation infrastructure a grade of D+. Here’s a thought: let’s put millions of Americans to work modernizing it since every billion dollars we spend on transportation employs more than 30,000 people…just sayin.
Okay, now the questions …
1) Do you believe the federal government does anything that should be funded?
2) Do you believe you should be entitled to hold hostage the funding for core functions of our government to get your way and scapegoat federal workers because you are a member of Congress?
3) Do you believe that making our government default on its debt to score political points with Tea Party extremists is a good strategy?
4) Do you believe it is okay to hollow out federal investments in jobs if it sinks our economy and leaves our transportation system in a free fall?
5) If bridges are falling down, our aviation system is using 1950s technology, our rail and transit systems are facing budget crises as demand soars, and our ports and navigation channels suffer from neglect, should we direct federal resources to solve these problems?
6) Do you believe the voters have had it with dysfunction and brinksmanship by the politicians in Washington?
Good luck with the test and no worries, if you fail it (as I suspect some of you will) you can retake it on November 4, 2014.
Answer Table: 1) Yes 2) No 3) No 4) No 5) Yes 6) Yes
Extremists like Senator Ted Cruz have made it clear that they think nothing of shutting down the government, forcing the federal government to default on its debt and sinking the world’s greatest economy if they don’t get their way. That’s not governing – that’s hostage-taking. To make matters worse, if that is even possible, Senator Cruz’s antics get us away from dealing with the automatic funding cuts that are set to take a another whack at federal workers, slash critical programs for the poor and elderly and cut transportation investments that are needed to fuel our economy.
The politicians call these cuts the “sequester,” which is typical Washington-speak. Let’s call them what they really are: a strategy by too many in the GOP hell-bent on slashing and burning government programs. Instead of demanding a tax code that doesn’t favor the super wealthy and finding a responsible way to address our fiscal challenges, these politicians want to impose arbitrary and damaging cuts and make this result the “new normal.”
So, once again, our nation’s mobility – and our economy – is at risk.
We already know the plot of this movie – thousands furloughed, programs shelved, job investments idled and the working poor and the elderly put at risk. And now, what is in the sequel if Congress and the President fail to act:
- FAA employees will be furloughed and key programs such as the next generation air traffic system (NextGen) will be on the chopping block again. The result? Thousands of flights delayed or cancelled.
- The Maritime Security Program (MSP), which assures our military sealift capacity, will be slashed further at the expense of national security and U.S. maritime jobs.
- The Federal Transit Administration will suspend reimbursements to state agencies for transit construction projects [Translation: job cuts], and agency staff will be unable to carry out environmental reviews for advancing projects.
- The Federal Railroad Administration will have to cut key personnel, cut safety operations and slash Amtrak capital improvements. The result? Commuters and travelers will suffer as Amtrak improvements will be slowed.
- At the Transportation Security Administration, airport security screeners will face elimination of overtime and a hiring freeze followed by possible furloughs, which would result in longer wait times and more chaos for air travelers.
Unfortunately some Republicans have made it clear that, for them, sequestration is the “new normal.” Americans know better. Not only has austerity hurt workers’ wages and retirements, as well as support for the unemployed, it is also squeezing education, health care, medical research, housing and services for seniors, and infrastructure job investments.
As for the economy, sequestration has harmed growth and consumer spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that undoing sequestration could add 1.6 million jobs and as much as 1.2 percent to GDP. Who’s against that? Apparently, Senator Cruz and his minions.
Americans reject this new normal. They just want the people they elect to set things right, stop scapegoating federal workers and get on with the work of rebuilding America and putting people back to work.