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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Congress Puts Rail Safety on the Agenda

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TTD’s rail safety agenda got a boost last week when Senator Richard Blumenthal, along with three other Senators, included several reforms that rail labor has long championed in their Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2014. Some 130,000 miles of freight rail tracks crisscross the United States, driving the economy, supporting more than 175,000 employees, and carrying crucial cargo that often includes hazardous materials. It is essential that we insist on the highest level of safety to protect workers, passengers, and communities that have trains pass by on a daily basis.

The Blumenthal bill gets it right when it mandates that all freight railroads must be operated by at least two qualified employees. Modern freight trains are large, complex vehicles that routinely carry hazardous materials throughout the United States, and it is simply ridiculous, and incredibly unsafe, to charge a single person with the responsibility of operating a train. Not surprisingly, opinion polls consistently show that the public supports the mandated use of two-person crews. The Federal Railroad Administration has announced its intention to issue a rule on two-person crew requirements, a pending House bill on the issue has 82 cosponsors, and now Senator Blumenthal and his colleagues have lent their support to this effort. Good news all around.

This bill also calls for added protections to ensure that that signal employees and other track workers are not injured or killed by moving trains. Specifically, the bill requires that back-up technology is implemented to alert train crews when signal work and other maintenance is being done on tracks. Further, the bill requires that alerters be positioned in the locomotive cab to help ensure that operating crews are responsive and can stop the train in case of an emergency. Alerters have already been installed in many trains, but this bill closes a loophole that has allowed older cars, especially on commuter rails, to go without them.

We are disappointed that the bill requires the installation of audio and video recording devices in locomotive cabs. We look forward to working with Senator Blumenthal to modify the bill on this point and to make other improvements that will enhance safety.

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Meet the Koch Sisters

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You know the Koch brothers: anti-union big-businessmen bent on increasing their own net worth at the expense of working Americans and using their money to influence American elections.

But do you know the Koch sisters, Joyce and Karen?

No? Maybe that’s because unlike their counterparts, Joyce and Karen haven’t spent billions of dollars buying elections and undermining workers’ rights to fair compensation and working conditions. Instead, they’ve spent their lives striving to ensure that their children and grandchildren have the same opportunities they’ve had. An educator and a retired social worker, respectively, Joyce and Karen both come from union families, and they both know what it’s like to have to fight for a decent wage.

Together with the AFL-CIO, Karen and Joyce are standing up to reaffirm that their voices—and the voices of countless Americans—are as important as the special interests that are determined to use their wealth to influence politics and policy.

TTD stands with them, and we invite you to join us. You can be a Koch sister, too – and show American politicians that ordinary Americans everywhere deserve a voice.

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